According to Donna Marshall, executive director of the Colorado Business Group on Health, there are 440,000 avoidable hospital health care-related deaths each year.

“That’s like a plane falling out of the sky every day,” she said.

Marshall represented the consumer-advocacy group earlier this month at a health care seminar co-sponsored by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. [See related story, page 1.]

She discussed an educational tool that covers safety: Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Safety Score, an online database.

Safety scores are based on surveys submitted by hospitals across the country “that have demonstrated a commitment to transparency by participating in the voluntary Leapfrog Hospital Survey,” according to the organization’s website.

“The survey assesses hospitals on three key areas: how patients fare, resources used in caring for patients, and leadership and structures that promote patient safety.”

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Top of the class?

Local systems have maintained safety grades of C or above, with St. Francis Medical Center maintaining the highest scores.

Beginning in fall 2002, St. Francis received a B rating, rising as high as an A in fall 2013 and again in spring 2014. The hospital’s current safety score is a B. Penrose Hospital earned a C in spring 2012, rose as high as an A in 2014, began 2015 with a B and has since slipped to a C.

Memorial Hospital Central has carried a C average since spring 2012, lifting its grade to a B in fall 2014. That system’s score has also slipped to a C since the beginning of 2016.

Memorial officials claim the scores aren’t accurate and don’t reflect the time and care devoted to patients.

“The nurses, staff and doctors at UCHealth Memorial Hospital constantly focus on providing the very best care for our patients,” read a statement provided by the health system’s communications department. “In the three years since Memorial joined with UCHealth, more than $108 million has been invested to ensure patients in our community receive the best possible care.”

The statement added that Leapfrog “requires hospitals to complete a very time-intensive questionnaire to be fully included in their survey. UCHealth made the decision that the resources of our staff members are best spent focusing on caring for our patients, so we do not complete this survey. Further, some of the Leapfrog information is incorrect. For example, Memorial Hospital staffs our intensive care units with intensivists; however, this report states we do not. Finally, the recently released Hospital Safety Score report contains data that is several years old, much of it from 2011 and 2012 before major investments were made and prior to the merger with UCHealth.”

Penrose officials said the scores are a measure of process, not outcomes. Dr. David Dull, chief medical officer with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, said both hospitals narrowly missed receiving the next-highest grade on their last assessments.

“We would anticipate next time our scores will be up,” he said. “Having said that, we support the transparency movement in health care and encourage providers, patients and employers to [use] health care ratings to garner as much information as they can. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to take those ratings in isolation.”

Marshall said the survey shows how facilities perform across a variety of parameters.

For instance, computer entries for prescription orders help curb errors, as prescription orders go through several people before making it to the patient.

“If you don’t have an order entry system, in general, that prescription will go through six people before it is filled,” Marshall said.

“It’s like a game of ‘telephone.’ It’s primed for mistakes.”

Marshall says Leapfrog’s scores include information obtained from the surveys, if available, as well as publicly available information.

The American Medical Association said the tool is useful, but limited.

“Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Score may ultimately enhance safety by increasing accountability and accelerating safety initiatives within hospitals,”  said an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Outcomes-based measures that include mortality, major complications, and failure to rescue may ultimately be more useful in guiding patients to institutions where they can expect better end results.”

See related link: Health Care CEOs: How to control health plan spending