Fun with numbers – CIHI under fire for hospital rankings

John Wright folded his arms looking more than a little apprehensive.

The CEO of the Canadian Institute for Health Information was about to address a room full of hospital officials, many upset about the Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP) launched a month earlier. The forum was the May 16 Breakfast with the Chiefs organized by publisher

CHRP was supposed to be the ultimate benchmark, looking at data from 600 hospitals across Canada and involving 100,000 bits of information.

Wright said that CIHI had already experienced 80,000 hits on the site, which to some may suggest success, to others a quantification of the damage done to the reputation of their hospital.

Knowing the onslaught that was coming, Wright pointed out that “perfection is achieved by slow degrees. It needs the hand of time.”

Kelly Isfan, CEO of the Norfolk General Hospital in Southwestern Ontario, said the purpose of such data was to make you ask more questions.

Looking at her hospital’s mortality rate, they were able to isolate the problems with one of four surgeons doing one specific procedure that he likely shouldn’t have been doing.

She said the CIHI indicators were a jumping off point for a conversation with her community, but said the clinical indicators were more useful than the financial ones.

Ontario hospitals looked particularly bad compared on administrative costs, which were higher than other provinces. Whereas many provinces run their hospitals directly from a regional health authority, Ontario has maintained its hospitals as independent not-for-profit corporations with their own boards.

Given many Ontario hospitals are taking away the ability of communities to participate in ratification votes of newly appointed board members, that cost difference could become a point of debate as questions get raised about the value of local boards that the community has no say in.

The ever-present Kevin Smith, CEO of Hamilton St. Joe’s, and the present provincially-appointed supervisor of the Niagara Health System, was much blunter about the CHRP. Smith complained CHRP often compared apples to oranges, reflected wild data swings, and was difficult to both use and understand.

The Ontario hospitals were particularly upset about the lack of consultation and notice about the release of CHRP, particularly after a Toronto Star story that reflected some particularly peculiar rankings.

“The face validity didn’t make sense,” he said.

Given perception is often reality, Smith said the rankings challenged the morale of hospital staff, who saw the rankings of specialty hospitals fall below small rural facilities with fewer available services.

The surprise release of the report also put many Ontario hospitals on the defensive.

Wright admitted there were many problems with CHRP.

“Low volumes are a huge issue,” he admitted.

While the report made it difficult to compare hospitals, particularly between provinces, Wright said the database was still useful in looking at the ongoing progress of an individual hospital.

He said the Toronto Star article “started ranting in a significant way.”

Responding to Smith’s comments about data swings, Wright said that there were data problems with the reporting hospitals.

“CIHI can’t fix this by ourselves – it is your data,” he said. “Now that we have your attention, can we pull this all together?”

Smith said hospitals should post embarrassing data every time it was true. “It drives performance. But we’re not comparing apples to apples,” he said.

Shalom Glouberman of the Patients’ Association of Canada, asked who CIHI had prepared this report for?

“What do patients want to know?”  he asked, stating CHRP could be far more patient friendly.

Neil Stuart, the Chair of Cancer Care Ontario, has been engaged by CIHI to speak with the hospitals and make recommendations around improving CHRP.

Meanwhile, fresh from that public bloodletting, the media is applauding the first hospital in Ontario to post real-time waits for their ER.

St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener posts online how many people are waiting online and the expected time it will take to see a doctor. The system updates every five minutes, unlike the province’s web site which updates once a month.

The system uses software developed by Oculys, a third-party company set up by the hospital to develop and market the software. Profits from the sale of the software go back to the hospital.

The hospital tells the Toronto Star that the software is based on thousands of hours research to understand the complex algorithm of the ER. They say that within the first month the system had 10,000 hits and 87 per cent of patients were seen in less time than the system had indicated.

They admit that the system is built for the 30 per cent of ER patients who need medical help, but not necessarily urgent care.

Given patients undergo triage when they arrive in ER, it would suggest that the system is built on averages, not necessarily a true indicator of how long you’ll spend waiting.

The hospital did admit the live data has the potential for some embarrassment, or what the roomful of hospital officials last week suggested were challenges of public confidence.

John Wright admitted that the genie is now out of the model. Hospitals have no choice but to find ways to improve their data.

Is it all too much? Is there data fatigue out there? Does the focus on data collection take away from front line care or enhance it? Will funding and other policy decisions be driven by the data? These are questions that will undoubtedly be debated as hospitals open themselves up to have their performance scrutinized.

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2 responses to “Fun with numbers – CIHI under fire for hospital rankings

  1. gina konjarski

    I’m trying to raise awareness and public support for accountability into institutions through an Ombudsman. Given the nature of your group, I hope that you can support this social justice initiative that would help protect the public especially the vulnerable and marginalized.

    A bill is coming to the legislature in May in the next two weeks to expand Ombudsman oversight, please download the petition below and speak to your MPP and ask them to support expanding Ombudsman oversight in Ontario.

    The Ontario Ombudsman is a public watchdog that oversees the provincial government, meaning if you have a complaint over a government agency he will investigate and help to resolve the issue on your behalf. We have an excellent Ombudsman, Andre Marin- he and his office do excellent work which have helped to trigger important reforms improving the lives of thousands of Ontarians.

    But, in Ontario (unlike the rest of Canada), the Ombudsman is RESTRICTED from investigating serious complaints of mistreatment/abuse in hospitals, long-term care, police misconduct, university complaints, school bullying, children’s aid who take children wrongfully from parents.

    The Provinicial government in Ontario has been LACKING political will to have this changed. Every other province in Canada, allows their Ombudsman into some or all of these areas except Ontario. It leaves thousands of people without anywhere to turn to for help. We as citizens of Ontario are all affected by the lack of accountability.


    List of MPP’s​members/​​locale=en

    This needs public pressure to change so please Spread the Word to friends, family, any organizations you belong to and speak to your MPP in Ontario.

    In this link it showcases how Ontario lags behind the rest of Canada.

    I welcome any comments, feedback or questions.

    Gina Konjarski

    Click to access ombudsman_petition.pdf

  2. Pingback: One Response to Fun with numbers – CIHI under fire for hospital rankings « Longwoods Blog

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