About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Geriatrics? A high-performing program? That seems odd

Hospitals can purchase the use of this badge for their promotional material.

Two readers were puzzled by last week’s story about Mary Washington Hospital and its new ranking by U.S. News & World Report. The magazine describes the Fredericksburg hospital as the sixth-best hospital in Virginia with eight “high performing” specialties. One of those high-performing specialties is said to be geriatrics.

“Mary Washington doesn’t have a geriatrics program,” one reader noted.

Over the last several years, Mary Washington has dropped most of its geriatrics services. However, it remains a minority partner with Dantra Healthcare in the Senior Care Geriatric Medical Center in Spotsylvania. The private practice opened in 2011. Dr. Samuel Umesegha, its physician, is a fellowship-trained geriatrician who has privileges at the hospital.

On a second point, another reader wondered if a hospital could improve its ranking by purchasing one or more of the magazine’s many spin-off products. In other words, are the rankings for sale?

U.S. News says that in compiling the ratings it considers a hospital’s size, volumes, reputation among specialists, and performance on a number of federal benchmarks.

The magazine also offers a variety of ways for hospitals to spread the word if they like their ratings. Its products include purchase of a profile in the magazine’s “Best Hospitals” directory, purchase of a “Best Hospitals” badge for the hospital’s website, or purchase of reprints. The marketing program “cast a doubt on the ratings,” said the reader.

U.S. News did not respond to a request for comment. In Mary Washington’s case, participation in the U.S. News marketing program doesn’t seem to be a factor in its ranking. Debbie McInnis, hospital spokeswoman, said yesterday that Mary Washington does not purchase any of the magazine’s products.

(The original blog post on the rankings by U.S. News and Consumer Reports is here. The U.S. News’ marketing program is here. Its explanations of how it ranks hospitals are here and here.)