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Measuring quality in health care

By Dr. Martin Durtschi

Hospitals collect large amounts of information on how well they take care of patients. Much of that information must be reported to Medicare so that they can identify the nation’s hospitals that are either outstanding, or, conversely, need to improve their patient care. Beginning this year, Medicare will use these statistics to determine how much to pay doctors and hospitals for services provided to Medicare patients. Private insurers will soon do the same. Excellent care will be rewarded, but poor care will result in financial penalties for the doctor or hospital responsible. The time when payment is the same for both good and poor medical care has passed.

St. Luke’s Health System goes one step further to make certain that its care is second to none. SLHS is composed of three large hospitals and six small rural hospitals, including St. Luke’s Wood River. It collects hundreds of individual quality-data points, ranging from how long it keeps patients waiting when they are scheduled for surgery to how often treatment fails or is complicated. Importantly, it also collects impressions of how care was delivered to patients, since this is just as important as any of the more technical things that are required to be measured.

It then compares this information to that of 2,500 of the nation’s other hospitals, ranging from small rural institutions to university medical centers. St. Luke’s Health System has set a goal for all of its hospitals to be in the top 10 percent nationwide.

In May, St. Luke’s Wood River became the first of the SLHS hospitals to reach that goal. Especially outstanding were the scores that patients gave St. Luke’s Wood River after being discharged from the hospital; these put it in the 99th percentile nationally! The other more technical scores were also superb and reflect the passion and commitment of our doctors, nurses and administrators, as well as the considerable benefits of being part of an integrated hospital system.

St. Luke’s Health System was named one of the top 50 health systems in America earlier this year. In spite of that achievement, and the elevation of St. Luke’s Wood River to the top 10 percent nationally, we intend to push on from here by setting our goals even higher. 

Most of the other SLHS hospitals are within reach of moving into the overall top 10 percent of America’s hospitals as well, and many have some categories of quality measures there already.

Medicare quality data for all hospitals is available on its website,  HYPERLINK ""


Dr. Martin Durtschi is a practicing surgeon and is director of quality improvement and system medical director at St. Luke’s Wood River.

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