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Healthgrades has announce the recipients of its 2024 Specialty Excellence Awards and Five-Star Specialty Care Ratings which recognizes hospitals with outstanding clinical performance in 16 specialty care areas. Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images
  • Healthgrades has announced the recipients of the 2024 Specialty Excellence Awards and Five-Star Specialty Care Ratings.
  • Healthgrades reviews nearly 4,500 hospitals, evaluating hospital performance over 31 common conditions and procedures to compile the annual awards.
  • Healthgrades reveals that from 2020 to 2022, if every hospital performed at the same level of quality as those that received the website’s five-star ratings, 215,667 lives would possibly have been saved.

Finding the right health care provider can be challenging, especially if you’re trying to find a provider to offer tailored, specialty care.

However, Healthgrades, the leading online resource for comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals, is aiming to make finding quality health care a little easier with the release of its 2024 Specialty Excellence Awards and Five-Star Specialty Care Ratings.

The awards shed a spotlight on which hospitals are providing the best, vetted clinical care in 16 specialty care areas. The list spans everything from orthopedic surgery to cardiac surgery to critical care.

To compile the annual awards, Healthgrades reviewed nearly 4,500 hospitals, evaluating hospital performance over 31 common conditions and procedures. For the awards, they analyzed Medicare Provider Analysis and Review (MedPAR) data from 2020 through 2022 that represented three-year estimates for Medicare patients, according to a press release.

The awards are broken down in three categories:

  • Healthgrades Specialty Excellence Award, which comprises the top 5% or 10% of hospitals for 16 specialty care areas.
  • Americas 100 Best Hospitals for Specialty Care, awarded to 100 hospitals for 11 different specialty care areas.
  • America’s 50 Best Hospitals for Specialty Care, which is given to 50 hospitals for for three different specialty care areas.

“We celebrate the recognized hospitals for their steadfast dedication to high quality specialty care,” Dr. Brad Bowman, chief medical officer and head of Data Science at Healthgrades, said in the release. “Healthgrades 2024 Specialty Excellence Awards and Ratings showcase hospitals nationwide that deliver consistently exceptional patient outcomes in a given medical specialty.”

In assessing the vast MedPAR data they have at their disposal, Healthgrades uses a star rating system, which is “an evaluation of the hospital’s actual performance as compared to the predicted performance for that hospital based on a specific risk-adjustment model applied to that hospital,” according to their ranking methodology.

To generate these ratings, they calculate the hospital’s “predicted value,” or its predicted number of deaths or complications, and then compare that predicted value to “actual or observed value,” which is the actual number of patient deaths or patients who have complications at each hospital location.

After this, a test is performed to see if the difference between these two measures is statistically significant. This is to ensure that the “differences were very unlikely to be caused by chance alone.”

From this a “z-score” (which is a standardized statistical test used to determine the difference between the actual and predicted complication and mortality rates, while factoring in patient variability and volume) is used to set a 90% confidence interval to establish the range of values an estimate like this would be expected to fall within if the test would be redone.

Healthgrades then established their hospital performance categories from the results of this test.

In many ways, these rankings offer a snapshot of the state of America’s specialty healthcare services and how they can impact health outcomes.

Healthgrades reveals that from 2020 to 2022, if every hospital performed at the same level of quality as those that received the website’s five-star ratings, 215,667 lives would possibly have been saved.

Additionally, 149,521 health complications could have been avoided if all hospitals were operating at that five-star level.

These differences pull the curtain back on the very pressing realities of who has access to needed specialty care.

Issues of socioeconomic status, racial disparities, and geographic barriers all interplay here.

Clese Erikson, MPAff, the deputy director of the Health Workforce Research Center at the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity, which is based at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told Healthline that in many rural and lower income areas in the U.S. hospital closures and staff shortages are having very tangible effects on individuals and their communities at large.

When a hospital closes in a small rural community, for example, she said it has a “spillover effect” that can be “devastating economically for the community that relies on that hospital for jobs,” and for the health and wellbeing of the patients being served.

Erikson, who is unaffiliated with Healthgrades, added that another burden these communities face is the fact that not all providers accept Medicaid plans, for instance, or accept people who are uninsured and are looking to pay out of pocket.

“There is increasing evidence that access can vary by zip code even in a metropolitan area, and that can have huge implications for disparities by race and ethnicity that can result in lower life expectancy,” she said.

Erikson explained that these challenges faced by communities at lower socioeconomic levels and who might live in healthcare “deserts” are complex and varied.

Say you do get access to a needed orthopedic specialist, but then you get home from the hospital and you might be returning to an empty refrigerator and might not have access to coverage for medications you need or even a car or mode of transportation to get to a pharmacy.

You might not even have a community around you to offer needed emotional or psychological support.

For many in this position, just navigating the string of follow-up appointments and referrals to other specialists can be a confusing, overwhelming maze.

“In addition to the rural and urban disparities and access to care, it’s important in this conversation to draw out that socioeconomic disadvantages are also equated to racial and ethnic disadvantage,” she added.

She cited that recent research has shed light on how negative outcomes and further health disparities can result from people of color not having access to physicians and providers who share their racial or cultural backgrounds and are sensitive to their acute needs.

Sometimes, just finding a specialistany specialist — doesn’t offer a person everything they need to ensure an optimal health outcome when they walk into that hospital waiting room for the first time.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been made of the telemedicine boom that has created what Erikson said is a “hybrid approach” to care where in-person care is often augmented by telehealth visits with a provider.

This can sometimes even the playing field for people who can’t find a specialist in their geographic area.

Erikson cited “e-consults” as one innovation of recent years that has proven effective. If you only have access to a primary care provider in your area and health plan network, that provider now has greater ease to make contact with a specialist colleague virtually — replacing hospital hallway colleague-to-colleague meetings of yore — who can then help the provider respond to that person’s specific needs.

This program of course isn’t seamless and neither is telehealth at large, she said. People most vulnerable in society might not have access to the technology to begin with or have comfort with using it.

If you don’t have easy access to broadband Internet or a smartphone that can open up a Zoom screen, it adds another challenge to making use of modern tools that aim to deliver specialty care to more people.

Erikson said strides have been made in recent years to close these gaps. There also are pushes nationwide to save many of the smaller community hospitals that are facing closures, but “it is hard to financially sustain some of those hospitals,” she stressed.

While many of these problems persist, Healthgrades annual awards are working to help break down barriers by offer an organized way to find the specialty care that might work for your needs.

*Healthgrades and Healthline are part of the RVO Health portfolio of brands.