Today’s news:

Raw data can be misleading in report on Queens’ health

As a surgeon dedicated to improving patient care here in Queens, I have taken the liberty of adding some context to the statistics used in the article in the hopes that this can help further educate the public.

The statement that Queens is No. 1 in the aforementioned areas listed is correct from the standpoint of the raw numbers from the source report — the Vital Statistics from nyc.gov for 2008. But we need to recognize that the report does not adjust the statistics for the fact that the population is not equally distributed across all five boroughs.

When we factor in that Queens is the second most-populous borough in the city, a different picture emerges. By adjusting for population, Queens actually ranks third in the rate of deaths from medical and surgical complications, not first.

Over the last few years, hospitals and health-care providers have begun looking at complication rates closely in order to find ways to improve the results for every patient. More importantly, we have the ability to look at these rates as adjusted for patient risk factors such as age, medical illnesses and degree of illness.

At my institution, we take it a step further and participate in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. NSQIP’s risk-adjusted feedback helps guide our quality improvement process and allows us to compare our performance against hospitals across the city and country.

We are aware this borough has health care access issues. This partly stems from the closing of three hospitals within the last 18 months. In addition, Queens has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the five boroughs. Despite these challenges, Queens’ health-care institutions provide excellent care to its patients.

We encourage the public to understand the importance of risk-adjusted data, as this type of data creates a clearer view of what is actually happening here and in other parts of the country.

Stephen Merola, M.D., FACS

Associate Chairman and Director of Continuous Quality Improvement

Department of Surgery

New York Hospital Queens

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