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Well Sourced: How to analyze health facility data to find local trends

Well Sourced: How to analyze health facility data to find local trends

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Looking for a place where your parents or grandparents can live out their retirement in comfort and get the health care they need? You might be looking for a place with a stable, friendly, knowledgeable staff who would invest time and energy in making sure grandma had a great experience.

If so, you might steer clear of nursing homes run by Plum Healthcare in California. Marjie Lundstrom and Phillip Reese at the Sacramento Bee found that, “[W]ithin Plum Healthcare Group, which operates more nursing homes in the Sacramento region than any other company, 90 percent of the company’s 42 homes statewide last year had higher than average nursing-staff turnover.”

That simple fact – how often health facilities hire and lose staff – is one of literally millions at your disposal if you spend the time to learn about and navigate the data in California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and similar agencies in states across the country. I’ll write about the staffing and some of the financial data first, and then talk about some of the other data available.

SOURCE: The state office of health planning/finance/statistics

WHAT IT DOES: Gathers financial and patient care data from health care facilities. 

WHAT IT DOES NOT DO: Allow you to adjust the data to easily compare small hospitals to large, city hospitals to suburban, acute care hospitals to specialty hospitals.

Staffing and financial records

In California, check with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD).

To find data in other states or to find comprehensive datasets (for a fee), go to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

OSHPD has always been my favorite state health care agency. They make massive amounts of data fairly easy to find, use, and understand. And I have always found a friendly voice on the other end of the line.

For the Sacramento Bee to write their comprehensive examination of nursing homes in California, they needed to pull together multiple sources of data. One of their biggest challenges was just figuring out who was running all these places. It’s not always obvious that the San Luis Care Center in Stanislaus, the Mark Twain Convalescent Center in Calaveras, and the Westgate Manor in Merced are all owned by the same company: Avalon Health Care. I downloaded one spreadsheet from OSHPD and found that out in three minutes.

DRAWBACKS: It helps to have at least basic database skills when trying to pull together tables from different hospitals or different diagnostic groups. But even if you just paste these tables into a spreadsheet you’ll be able to see basic trends. Some of the quality data is out of date. Any hospital that had a high mortality rate in the past is going to tell you that it has improved. As it stands, though, you have no way of knowing if they’re telling the truth.

SUGGESTION: Another important piece of the Sacramento Bee series was the rate of staff turnover. The Avalon centers all had a lower than average turnover rate of between 21 and 32 percent, with one exception. The average in 2013 was about 40 percent. More than 300 facilities had turnover rates of 50 percent or higher.

A good story for any health writer would be to look at which nursing homes are having trouble keeping people and what that does to the care and culture of the facilities.

I’ll write more about data available from agencies like OSHPD in my next post.

Photo by sima dimitric via Flickr.

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