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RMC gets Consumer Reports high surgical safety rating
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Rockdale Medical Center ranks as one of the state’s seven safest hospitals for surgery, above Atlanta’s big hospitals, in a new rating by the prestigious magazine Consumer Reports. 

RMC fares well in Consumer Reports’ overall hospital safety rankings as well, with a rating around the state average. That’s similar to Atlanta Medical Center and some famous hospitals around the country.

“I’m happy about the rating, because it shows the perception that patients have to go into (Atlanta) or go elsewhere (for quality care) is not true,” said Dr. Robert Greenfield of Resurgens Orthopaedics, who has performed surgeries at RMC for 20 years. “It’s really a feather in the cap of Rockdale County.”

Measuring surgical safety is complicated, and the Consumer Reports rating comes with many qualifications. But it is consistent with other rankings by such organizations as The Joint Commission, the nonprofit organization that accredits hospitals nationwide.

RMC rates as the same or better than other medical facilities around the country on key quality and safety measures in The Joint Commission’s online ratings. In October, The Joint Commission named RMC as one of the nation’s “Top Performers on Key Quality Measures.” That means near-perfect use of proven best practices in many sorts of treatments, including surgery.

Deb Moore, RMC’s director of surgical services, oversees the nonstop process of monitoring and improving safety.

“It’s an ongoing thing, something you can’t let slip,” she said. “Every day, every minute, it’s a thing you have to keep aware of.”

RMC’s various quality and safety programs range from high-tech to common-sense. LifePoint Hospitals, the company that owns RMC, provides regular training on new methods and standards. 

But some of the basics are always the same, such as making sure all employees frequently wash their hands to prevent infections. Moore said RMC uses “secret shoppers” to covertly monitor the hand-washing to make sure no one skips it.

Safety may be the reason for some things patients find annoying. When nurses ask the same question over and over, it often is to avoid making any mistake.

“If you come in for a right knee scope (surgery), you’re going to be asked 12 times, ‘Is it that knee?’” said Moore. That greatly reduces the chance of a surgeon accidentally operating on the wrong limb, she said.

There are rules, checklists and precautions for surgeons, too.

“The big thing is called the ‘time out,’” Moore said. It’s a moment that the doctors and nurses pause to review everything they’re doing and make sure they’re not forgetting anything. There are actually three time outs, before and after surgery.

Nurses also contact all patients after surgery to make sure they’re doing well and answer any questions.

The Consumer Reports surgical ranking, published in its September issue, puts RMC in the top seven of 43 Georgia hospitals surveyed.

 The ranking does not give the hospitals a particular numerical rating. Instead, it rates them as better or worse than the overall state average. RMC rates better than Atlanta’s Emory University and Piedmont hospitals, among others.

The rating is based on the percentage of Medicare surgical patients who died in the hospital or were hospitalized longer than expected in 2009-2011. It is based on billing records, not medical records, so it is a limited way to look at patient safety.

The new surgical rating is just one part of Consumer Reports’ overall hospital safety ratings, which compare all hospitals nationwide. On that system, RMC’s safety rating is 43 out of 100; no hospital in the country rates higher than 74. Georgia’s highest-rated hospital is 71 and the lowest is 21, so RMC is right around the average. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a Harvard Medical School affiliate and home to President Obama’s new nominee for surgeon general, rates a 46.

On some of Consumer Reports’ other safety measures, RMC rates very highly on doctor-patient and nurse-patient communication. It is rated below average on drug information explained to patients and on readmission rates of patients with heart attacks, heart failure or pneumonia.

RMC, located at 1412 Milstead Ave., is a 138-bed, acute care hospital founded in 1954.