Putting the bottom of the list at the top

This is the time of year when lists rule — from Santa's naughty and nice list to the incessant best-of-the-year lists.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) added some new items to their growing list — how well patients fared after knee or hip replacement surgery at hospitals nationwide. The ratings are based on the rate of major complications and readmissions within 30 days for hip and knee replacement patients.

The list is not the story. How the lists are being presented in the media is.

NPR's health news blog, Shots, ran a piece titled "Medicare Names Best And Worst Hospitals For Joint Replacements" along with a list — of the nine worst offenders on the list.

Kaiser Health News played it straighter with a table that lists all 192 hospitals that were either better or worse than average.

In the past, most media would focus on the top performing hospitals and expose situational examples from those that were lacking. Now the focus is on the bottom, looking up.

Ratings are important, but they are only part of the equation patients must examine when they are seeking elective surgery. Your best bet is always to do research and ask around, especially of people who are familiar with the hospital, surgeon and care team at the facility you are considering.

For health care PR folks, you always need to be ready to show how you are constantly improving on quality and experience. Because even if you are at the top of the list, there is always room for improvement.