- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

Fewer long-term nursing home patients suffer moderate to severe pain in the District and Maryland than they do in Virginia, a new federally operated Web site shows.

Virginia ranks ahead of Maryland and the District in testing hospitalized pneumonia patients’ blood before administering antibiotics, says the Web site, www.qualitytools.ahrq.gov/qualityreport/state.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, created the Web site to allow hospitals, doctors, officials and patients to compare health care services among the 50 states and the District.

Jurisdictions are ranked by how well their hospitals perform in treating patients with cancer, heart problems or respiratory disease, and providing nursing home care.

The District ranks first, Maryland second and Virginia 27th in the low percentage of nursing home patients who suffer pain.

Virginia ranks 17th, Maryland 47th and the District 51st in the percentage of pneumonia patients who receive a blood culture before antibiotics.

State hospital associations and government officials say the site is not intended to establish a ranking system.

“The purpose was not to be a report card. The purpose was to promote increased health care for all patients,” said Laurens Sartoris, president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“It’s an attempt to raise all ships. By giving people and hospitals and physicians information … everybody has an opportunity to assess where he stands and act accordingly,” he said.

AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy agrees with Mr. Sartoris’ assessment.

“There is no ‘best state’ or ‘worst state,’” she said in a speech Monday in the District before health care officials from across the country. “Improvement is needed in every state.”

Officials did not compile the data in a way that would show which state fared the best or the worst cumulatively for each of the 106 categories measured. Instead, they released what are essentially 51 reports — one for each jurisdiction that shows how it fared in each category compared with the national average.

“The purpose was to let states know where they were doing well and where they needed to improve,” AHRQ spokeswoman Farah Englert said. “Congress asked us to take a look across the nation, to set a national benchmark and see where states were doing well and where they were doing poorly.”

Out of 106 categories, Maryland was given an above-average grade in 30 categories. Virginia and the District were above average in 14 categories.

Maryland received 19 below-average marks, Virginia received 31 and the District received 28.

The District did not have information in 33 categories. Maryland was missing information in seven and Virginia in three.

“Statistics are always a little problematic. You’ve got to be aware of who you’re comparing against,” said Jeffrey Elting, medical director at the D.C. Hospital Association. “We’re all metropolitan hospitals, whereas some states have rural hospitals and urban hospitals, too.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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