Does your Hospital Make the Grade?

This is a sponsored column by Catherine Bertram, Attorney at Law. Catherine is a Northwest Washington, D.C.-based attorney with over 25 years experience in medical malpractice cases, including those involving wrongful death.

Sibley Memorial Hospital is located at 5255 Loughboro Road NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2016)

By Catherine Bertram

You may see a heartwarming ad on TV or on the side of the Metrobus, but does it tell you anything about how safe that hospital is? According to the Journal of Patient Safety, about 1,000 patients die every day day as the result of medical errors, making it the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Every day we choose where to eat, what products to buy for our homes, pets and family, and numerous similar decisions. We read consumer publications, consult with friends or co-workers or seek out online ratings before making a decision. Yet, there is often so much left to the unknown when it comes to selecting a hospital.

Needless to say, this choice can be life or death. Hospitals vary greatly on things like infection rates, surgical errors, and patient injuries–not to mention ER wait times and patient satisfaction.

There are several free resources available to assist you in finding the safest care for you and your family. A national not-for-profit organization, The Leapfrog Group works to reduce medical errors and infections by advocating for public access to quality and safety data.

The annual Leapfrog Hospital Survey measures the performance of over 1,800 U.S. hospitals, and is a trusted, transparent and evidence-based tool in which hospitals voluntarily participate. You should never refuse emergency care because of a hospital’s Leapfrog Safety Grade, but it provides a research tool for planned medical events and other future health needs.

According to Leapfrog, a hospital with an “A” is 9% safer than one with a “B” grade, and 50% safer than a hospital with a “D” grade.

District-based hospitals ranked 47th (by state) in Leapfrog’s Spring 2017 Hospital Safety Grade.  None of the hospitals in D.C. earned an “A”, and three were given a “D”. By comparison, Virginia ranked 9th, while Maryland’s hospitals were not ranked and not required to share their data.

Leapfrog allows you drill down on each hospital’s performance into each area of care—before you need to go to the Emergency Department.

If you need complex surgery, you can compare incidence rates for specific procedures. If you are pregnant, you can search records of managing high-risk deliveries. You can even review ICU staffing protocols and how each hospital uses computerized prescribing and bar-code technology to keep patients safe from medication errors.

As always, before making a decision, do your homework and talk to your doctor. Hopefully, we can work together to ensure that our local hospitals earn “Straight A’s”, and make our community as safe as possible.


Catherine Bertram is a Washington, D.C. trial lawyer who has been working on issues involving patient safety for more than 25 years.  She was previously the Director of Risk Management at MedStar Georgetown Hospital, and she currently resides and practices law in the District of Columbia. She works as a patient advocate for families, as well as those who are seriously injured or lose their lives as a result of preventable medical errors.