TUESDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Large gaps in quality persist among hospitals in the United States, according to a new report that examined patient outcomes at nearly 5,000 hospitals across the country.

For example, patients at 5-star rated hospitals (highest rating) were 73 percent less likely to die than those at 1-star rated hospitals, according to the 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America report by HealthGrades, an independent source of physician and hospital quality outcomes.

If all hospitals performed at the 5-star level over the three years studied, the lives of more than 240,000 Medicare patients could have been saved, the report stated.

The findings are based on 40 million hospitalization records from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that were analyzed for death and complication rates for 27 medical procedures and diagnoses at all of the nation's nonfederal hospitals from 2008 through 2010.

The investigators also examined patients' use of the Internet to research physician and hospital quality. The top 10 cities for patient Web use for such research from January 2011 through July 2011 were: Washington D.C.; New York; Kansas City, Mo.; Seattle; Boston; Philadelphia; Gainesville, Fla.; Dallas; Atlanta and Baltimore.

The report outlined the types of patients who go online to check physician and hospital quality. They are typically aged 25 to 54 and most (93 percent) have health insurance, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) are female, half have household incomes greater than $75,000 annually, 80 percent are "very or somewhat" concerned about the quality of hospital care in their community, and nearly 94 percent said they would seek care at a higher-rated hospital even if it meant that they had to go out of their way to get there.

"Patients are increasingly demanding objective clinical quality measures on which to base their health care decisions," Kerry Hicks, HealthGrades chief executive officer, said in a HealthGrades news release.

More information

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