Which hospital should you go to if you need heart surgery?

Imperial, California - Consumer Reports’ first-ever Ratings of hospitals for heart surgery finds some top-rated hospitals in surprising places, and that performance can vary widely even at neighboring hospitals in the same geographic area. The Ratings, which look at heart bypass surgery and aortic valve replacement surgery, cover more than 400 hospitals nationwide.

“It’s extremely difficult for consumers to find out which hospitals and surgeons have the best result with their specific heart procedure. But it shouldn’t be so hard,” said John Santa, M.D., medical director of Consumer Reports Health. “Hospitals and doctors should make their information accessible and understandable, so families can make informed choices when they make life and death decisions.”

Consumer Reports’ analysis found that top-rated hospitals often aren’t household names. Of the more than 400 hospitals that make their data available to Consumer Reports, only 15 earned top scores in both heart-valve and bypass surgery. Although the well-known Cleveland Clinic made the list, so did some less familiar hospitals, such as Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, MI, and Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler in Tyler, TX. Some are major medical centers, while others are smaller.

The full heart surgery ratings report is available online at Consumer Reports.org and in the August issue of Consumer Reports, on sale July 3.

Of the hospitals that shared their bypass data with us, 20 percent (83) were above average, 75 percent (310) were average, and 4 percent (18) were below average. Of the 247 hospitals with data on valve surgery, 10 percent (25) got a top score, 87 percent (216) a middle score, and 2 percent (6) the lowest one.

CR also found that performance can vary widely, even at neighboring hospitals. The organization found four metropolitan areas—Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and Portland, Ore.—where there are top and low-scoring hospitals, sometimes just miles apart.

The information in these heart surgery Ratings comes from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), which represents physicians who operate on the heart and other organs in the chest. More than 1,000 U.S. hospitals report to the STS, but only about 400 of those facilities allowed the STS to share the data with Consumer Reports.

Certain famous hospitals are missing from the Ratings. Some examples include Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Columbia-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell in New York City. Those hospitals aren’t included
because they don’t share data with Consumer Reports, the STS, or both.

“All hospitals know this information,” Santa says. “Those that have agreed to share, especially those with low scores, should be applauded for their commitment to transparency. Those that haven’t shared should make it available. Otherwise, it seems like they have something to hide.”

Consumer Reports rated hospitals on two heart surgeries: traditional surgical aortic valve replacement and coronary artery bypass graft surgery, an equally serious operation done to treat blocked coronary arteries. The Ratings are based on the gold standard in tracking hospital performance: data from patients’ medical records showing whether patients survived the procedure and how they fared on other important measures, including complications. To create a level playing field, the data was adjusted for the health of patients because certain hospitals treat more older, sicker patients than others.

The 15 hospitals that earned a top score in both bypass and valve replacement surgery (in alphabetical order) are:

  • Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass.

  • Borgess Medical Center, Kalamazoo, Mich.

  • Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland

  • Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center, Clackamas, Ore.

  • Kaleida Health (Gates Vascular Institute at Buffalo General Medical Center), Buffalo, N.Y. 

  • Mother Frances Hospital-Tyler, Tyler, Texas

  • Sequoia Hospital, Redwood City, Calif.

  • Spectrum Health-Grand Rapids (Meijer Heart Center), Grand Rapids, Mich.

  • St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ypsilanti, Mich.

  • St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Syracuse, N.Y.

  • St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, Indianapolis

  • Swedish Medical Center-Cherry Hill Campus, Seattle

  • The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, Plano, Texas

  • UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, Mass.

  • Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, N.J.

For Consumer Reports’ complete hospital Ratings, including the details behind the heart bypass surgery and aortic valve replacement surgery (such as ratings by hospital for survival and surgical complications), subscribers can visit: ConsumerReports.org/hospitalratings. For details on CR's methodology, go to ConsumerReports.org/cro/howweratehospitals.

Tips to find a heart hospital

Consumer Reports also suggests six tips to help find a heart hospital:

  • Ask your doctor how serious your condition is and how soon you’ll need surgery. Chances are you will have time to research hospitals unless it’s an emergency.

  • Because only about 400 hospitals allowed Consumer Reports to publish their data, there’s a good chance your local hospital isn’t included in these ratings. If so, almost every hospital reports their data to the STS even if it is not public and some give similar data to state registries, so you can ask your surgeon about your local hospital’s survival and complication rates. If he or she can't—or won't—share it, consider looking elsewhere.

  • Don’t panic if there are no top-rated hospitals in your community. A hospital that gets an average rating still provides good care. If you decide to travel elsewhere for your procedure you need to make sure your health insurance will cover that out-of-town facility. Know you probably won’t have as much immediate support from family, friends.

  • If your insurance will not cover your heart hospital of choice, as managed care plans (including Medicare Advantage) require providers be in-network, see if your surgeon feels the procedure could be postponed until you switch plans. You may be able to do that during the annual fall open enrollment period; additionally almost all hospitals accept original Medicare. Otherwise you may have to pay most of the cost yourself if you’re in managed care and your hospital is considered out-of-network.

  • You do not need to go to a famous hospital in a large city. Consumer Reports found top hospitals in bypass and valve surgery in out-of-the-way places and high scoring hospitals in either procedure are in all areas of the country.

  • It can be difficult to find information about a specific heart surgeon. A few state health departments maintain surgeon registries. But you’ll probably need to ask your surgeon for the information you want. If he or she won't tell you, consider going elsewhere. Consumer Reports subscribers can see ratings for heart surgery groups at ConsumerReports.org/heartsurgerygroups.

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