August 4, 1997
Volume 49, No. 36
When readers opened this year's America's Best Hospitals issue of U.S. News & World Report, Emory Hospital, a fixture since the list's inception in 1990, was disappointingly absent. The July 28 issue did not include any mention of the hospital's cardiology, urology, neurology or orthopaedics programs, all of which ranked highly in previous years.
"The reason is purely an accident, having nothing to do with the quality of the programs," said Sylvia Wrobel, director of health sciences communications. Each year hospital administrators fill out surveys from a variety of health care advocacy organizations that detail the quality and types of services provided. "A particular survey requested by the American Hospital Association was not filled out for 1995 since much of the same data had been provided elsewhere," explained Wrobel. "Unfortunately, some of the data used to calculate the U.S. News & World Report rankings came from that survey.
"Because the company hired by the magazine to calculate these ranking did not have this particular data in hand, it simply excluded Emory Hospital from any consideration of ranking in all specialties for which data were required," she said. The Best Hospitals issue assesses care for 15 specialties at 126 hospitals nationwide.
Hospital and medical school administrators were understandably displeased by the omission. Fairly or not, many health care consumers consult the rankings for for evidence of a hospital's quality. The cardiology program, rated in the magazine's top ten every year, moved from 8th to 6th in last year's rankings, and urology ranked 22nd in its fourth appearance on the list.
Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, said he was "very disappointed that magazine readers will not have a chance to see the real rankings of the hospital. I'm convinced that had the data been included, Emory would have maintained or improved its ranking in the heart and other areas previously ranked."
Added Wrobel, "We've expressed our concern to U.S. News & World Report that an institution can be sixth in the nation one year and not included the next-without someone trying to see what happened and whether this affects what the magazine says it is ranking."
Increasingly, U.S. News & World Report and other magazines are coming under fire for these ratings issues and the methodology and reporting tactics used to compile their lists. U.S. News changed the methodology for its annual college guide, set to hit newsstands later this month, after college administrators complained that rating one institution higher than another on the basis of statistical differences, which in some cases may have amounted to only a few tenths of a point, was flawed.
President Bill Chace, whose own resistance to the college rankings prompted him to write a letter to alumni about the issue in Emory Magazine, has "begun a conversation with my colleagues . . . about whether to submit reputational or statistical data to U.S. News in the future." The rankings, he wrote in the same letter, have "little to do with our steps to improve quality and more to do with the way the magazine changes its formula each and every year."
|Good news for ophthalmology|
The bad news regarding U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Hospitals rankings shouldn't overshadow the fact that Emory's ophthalmology program marked its third appearance on the magazine's list, ranking 16th in the nation. Ophthalmology was included because the rankings for that specialty, unlike the other services, were based solely on a reputational survey of physicians "because mortality data are unavailable or are unrelated to treatment," stated the magazine.