Stanislaus County is almost always low on the lists of "best places to live," but Consumer Reports says it's a fairly good place to spend time in the hospital.
Modesto hospitals received strong overall patient scores in the magazine's hospital ratings released last week. Consumer Reports compiled information from a handful of sources, including patient satisfaction surveys sent to patients of all ages by Medicare.
Out of a possible score of 100 points, Stanislaus Surgical Hospital rated 91, Memorial Medical Center 78, and Doctors Medical Center 71. No rating was available for Kaiser Modesto Medical Center, which is in its second year of operation.
The scores for Oak Valley Hospital of Oakdale and Emanuel Medical Center of Turlock were 67 and 57, respectively.
The overall ratings are an average of the percentage of patients who said they would "definitely" recommend the hospital and the percentage of people who rated the hospital at 9 or 10 on a scale of zero to 10.
The consumer service did not show how hospitals rank in different geographic areas of the United States. But consumers can compare hospitals in cities, counties or states by going to www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org. A subscription is required to look at the ratings.
Stanislaus Surgical, a short-stay surgical facility, was given high marks in categories such as doctor communication, cleanliness, attentiveness of staff, pain control and quietness.
Hospitals also were rated on how well they follow procedures for preventing infection and their approach to caring for life-threatening chronic diseases.
Memorial spokeswoman Catherine Larsen said the ratings are part of the growing amount of health care information available to consumers.
"It is valuable feedback," she said. "We take this kind of information and process it and look at how we can improve the patient experience."
Memorial and Doctors regularly have surveys done to get feedback from patients.
Doctors spokeswoman Carin Sarkis said the hospital's overall score in Consumer Reports was slightly lower than the results of its own surveys. The hospital monitors patient feedback on a monthly and yearly basis, she said.
Consumer Reports gave Doctors a below-average score for noise, a complaint the hospital has heard before.
"That can prove to be a challenge because the work doesn't stop in the hospital," Sarkis said. "Staff are working 24 hours a day, delivering charts, answering phones and working in the unit."
The hospital has put glass barriers around nurses' stations to reduce noise. Sweet dreams kits, with ear plugs and sleep masks, are offered to patients in their rooms, Sarkis said.
Despite a low rating by Consumer Reports, Mercy Medical Center Merced claims its patient satisfaction is higher than reported by the magazine.
Out of a possible 100 points, Mercy rated 49 points in its overall patient rating.
"Patient satisfaction is very important to us," said Dr. Robert Streeter, vice president of medical affairs at Mercy. "We take surveys very seriously."
The hospital did fairly well in most areas that were ranked by Consumer Reports.
Doctor communication was ranked at 93, nurse communication at 92 and pain control at 89.
However, the hospital ranked lower in areas such as communication about medications with a 73, and quietness with a 71.
"We are pretty picky about ratings at Consumer Reports," said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for the magazine. "We are not printing things unless we are really convinced they tell something about the quality of the hospital and how well people do at that hospital."
Metcalf said a hospital that's consistently ranked low may show that the hospital isn't well organized.
"This is the enemy of good patient care," she said. "Hospitals are busy, complicated places, and good patient care is important."
While Metcalf said online ratings can be used by consumers to compare hospitals, Streeter suggested that patients look to a source that is usually more knowledgeable about the local hospital.
What does your doctor say?
"I think people should discuss the hospital with their doctors," Streeter said. "Their personal physician is in the best position to gauge if the person can be safely and adequately treated at this facility."
He added: "I think these reports are excellent at getting discussions started. I treat my patients as if they were a member of my family, and we want every patient to feel that way."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.