Community hospitals aren’t just where people go if they need a flu shot or emergency care for their child in the middle of the night.
In fact, community hospitals can offer the kind of high-quality care that many associate only with major urban hospitals, said Jerri Cortese, spokeswoman at Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s Hospital.
“We’re constantly trying to let people in the community know that we spend our lives working in health care to give them the best that they need in the community,” Cortese said. “They don’t have to travel to New York City. We’re right here.”
That sentiment was backed earlier this month, when HealthGrades named the hospital among the top in the nation for joint replacement, knee replacement and hip fracture treatment for the third year in a row. It also earned several other clinical honors, including five-star ratings for prostatectomy, treatment of heart attack, overall pulmonary services, and treatment of pneumonia and respiratory failure.
The five-star ratings aren’t just for prestige, said HealthGrades spokeswoman Marsha Austin. Patients treated at five-star hospitals are 63 percent less likely to experience complications than those treated at one-star hospitals, concluded a 2011 report by the independent source of physician information and hospital quality outcomes.
“We do see that a lot of community hospitals, when you look at the complication rates for their population, are actually providing higher quality than those centers in larger cities,” Austin said. “That is one of the primary messages that we try to communicate to the public: You can’t just make your decision on where to seek care based on size or reputation.”
The report also found that patients treated at five-star-rated hospitals experience a 73 percent lower risk of mortality than those treated at one-star-rated hospitals.
Using data compiled by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, HealthGrades found that people looking for the best care increasingly use its service. Albany is ranked 17th in the nation in the “Top 50 Cities Going Online to Research Health Care,” based on unique visitors to HealthGrades’ website.
Austin said people researching general health information online has grown at four times the rate of overall Internet use. And over the past 10 years, traffic to its website has increased steadily, coming in at more than 170 million visits a year.
Sixty percent of all adults in the United States go online for health-related information, according to the Pew Internet Project. Of those people, more have begun looking for information on doctors and hospitals than on general diseases or treatments, Austin said.
“So we do know that more and more people are being proactive about looking up and seeking quality information,” she said.
Health care consumers shouldn’t rely on just one source when seeking medical assistance, though, said Elmer Streeter, director of corporate communications at Albany’s St. Peter’s Health Care Services.
Rather, the more sources the better — from other doctors’ referrals to the website of a major hospital like Johns Hopkins or even WebMD, he said.
“A lot of times what they’re seeing and doing on the Web may just be that they want to validate a referral that they’ve gotten from their physician or a recommendation that they’ve gotten from a friend,” Streeter said. “I think using any single source is probably not enough. People ought to use a lot of sources because that makes them good, educated health care consumers.”
Although the ratings given by HealthGrades can be helpful for hospitals to analyze how they can improve, Streeter said the data culled reflect only a subset of the population — those on Medicare.
HealthGrades compiles and analyzes Medicare Provider Analysis and Review data, which track inpatient history, patterns and outcomes of care over time.
Austin said HealthGrades uses those patient discharge records kept by the federal government and then “risk-adjusts” to ensure its measurements are accurate.
“HealthGrades has a methodology where we make sure we’re comparing apples to apples among hospitals,” Austin said. “So it takes into account the sickness of the population or the other health problems of patients coming in to a hospital. We’re looking just solely at did the hospital have a higher death rate or a higher complication rate given what we know about their patient population. We don’t research why.”
For St. Mary’s, a 120-bed hospital with 10 primary and specialty care centers in Fulton and Montgomery counties, the recognition is helpful as more people consult the Internet when looking for a health care provider.
Still, the hospital continues to see a lot of patients come in who were referred by family or friends, Cortese said. She said a friend or neighbor might pass on word of a good experience at the hospital and then someone will go online to further research a provider.
“Sometimes they’ll do that work online first and then ask in the community, ‘What about this doctor? What about this place? This provider?’ ” Cortese said. “We’re still finding that people are very, very influenced by reputation. But more and more we know that people are then checking quality by whatever sources are out there.”
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