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Arch Intern Med. 2012 Sep 10;172(16):1204-10. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3158.

Patient experience in safety-net hospitals: implications for improving care and value-based purchasing.

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  • 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Whether safety-net hospitals (SNHs) provide patient-centered care has important implications both for patient outcomes and for how these hospitals will fare under value-based purchasing (VBP). We sought to determine performance and improvement on measures of patient-reported hospital experience among SNHs compared with non-SNHs.


Our sample consisted of 3096 US hospitals. We defined safety-net hospitals as those hospitals in the highest quartile of the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) index, and we used national data on patient experience from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey in 2007 and 2010 to examine overall hospital performance and improvement over time.


Safety-net hospitals had lower performance than non-SNHs on nearly all measures of patient experience. The greatest differences were in overall hospital rating, where patients in SNHs were less likely to rate the hospital a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale compared with patients in non-SNHs (63.9% vs 69.5%; P < .001). Gaps were also sizeable for the proportion of patients who reported receiving discharge information (2.6 percentage point difference; P < .001) and who thought they always communicated well with physicians (2.2 percentage point difference; P < .001). Although both groups of hospitals improved from 2007 through 2010, the gap between SNHs and non-SNHs increased (3.8% in 2007 vs 5.6% in 2010; P = .08). Finally, SNHs had a 60% lower odds of meeting VBP performance benchmarks for hospital payments (odds ratio, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.3-0.5; P < .001) compared with non-SNHs.


Safety-net hospitals have lower performance than non-SNHs on metrics of patient-reported experience, improved somewhat more slowly under public reporting, and are likely to fare poorly under VBP.

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