Editor’s note: Research for the annual hospital rankings is conducted by RTI International, which is based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. 

“Researchers at RTI collected and analyzed the data and survey information behind the rankings using a respected and well-established methodology, which combined original survey data with secondary analyses of data from various sources, primarily the American Hospital Association and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” RTI says of its work. (Read more from RTI here.)

The following story was written by Brandon Glenn of MedCity News, a content partner of WRAL Tech Wire.


The U.S. News & World Report Best Hospital rankings were released Tuesday. And media outlets all over the country – no matter where their hospitals finished – have already begun singing the praises of their local runners up.

Health systems and academics grouse about the unfairness of the rankings (truth be told: they’re not the best measure of hospitals’ care, but they are an excellent measure of hospitals’ reputation). But those complaints have grown increasingly quiet and have given way to acceptance and spin.

It’s notable that while so many media outlets cover these rankings like sports, there are few headlines that go the other way: “Hospital system chokes, stays at 14th place,” for example. Illustrating that hospitals never miss the chance to pat themselves on the back – or take advantage of a good marketing opportunity – here’s a selection of the good vibes that come out with the 2011 best hospitals rankings.

Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, crowed about its No. 50 ranking in diabetes and endocrinology care, while failing to mention that it wasn’t ranked in the top 50 in any of U.S. News’ other 15 specialty area categories. “Our focus has always been high-quality care,” a health system executive said in a statement. How about focusing on providing high-quality care in one of the other 15 categories?
Kansas University Hospital didn’t place higher than 29th in any of specialty categories, but that didn’t stop its CEO from crowing that the rankings are “just a validation of the care that our patients see every day.”

Then there are the hospitals that don’t rank in the Top 50 in any specialty category, but still get mentioned by U.S. News, providing them with an opportunity for recognition by local media. University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center in suburban Cleveland is a fine example, earning a headline for merely being “commended” by the magazine, which “noted” its “work” in several categories.

Another suburban Cleveland hospital garnered recognition and a happy headline for being ranked 16th out of 34 Cleveland-area hospitals. Few examples better illustrate the utter absurdity of the U.S. News best hospitals ratings when a hospital, that by virtue of its middle-of-the-pack ranking apparently provides average care, yet finds itself presented with the opportunity to trot out some hollow PR-speak.

“It just goes to show you don’t have to travel far for good care,” a hospital spokeswoman said of the ranking. Actually it goes to show that, with a little creativity, a hospital can spin the U.S. News rankings virtually any way it pleases.

Given that the U.S. News rankings change so little from year to year – and are a measure of reputation more than anything else – is it really necessary to trot this thing out every year? Obviously not, but that would deny U.S. News a good opportunity to market itself.

And so the spin continues…

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