‘We’re No. 2!’: Mass. General slips from top spot in national ranking

Governor Deval Patrick issued a citation. Mayor Menino sent a duck boat and declared July 17 to be “MGH is No. 1 Day.” And the storied Boston hospital hosted a party, with cookies, to celebrate its achievement.

That was last year, when Massachusetts General Hospital was named tops in the country by U.S. News & World Report’s annual honor roll, supplanting Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which had held the top spot for 21 years.

This year’s response was less effusive: staff received a congratulatory e-mail. The hospital had moved to No. 2.

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Of course, second in the United States is pretty darn good. Dr. Peter Slavin, the president, said he’s still quite pleased, though “maybe slightly less happy than we were last year.”

The ranking is based on factors including patient survival rates, staffing, quality of care measures, and, to a small degree, efforts to avoid serious medical errors. One-third of the ranking is based on a survey of doctors about which facilities they believe are best in their field.

There is plenty of debate about how best to measure hospital quality, the only consensus being that no one has really figured out the best way to do it. The physician surveys included in the U.S. News rankings regularly draw criticism from people who question whether a hospital’s reputation equates to great quality of care or excellent branding.

The ranking does not include standardized patient satisfaction data collected by the government, including measures of how well doctors communicate, cleanliness, and overall opinion. GoLocal Worcester recently assembled a list of New England hospitals using that data, which was dominated by smaller community hospitals. Mass. General was at No. 64.

But the U.S. News report garners a lot of attention from consumers. Slavin said he sees value in its formula and in including physician opinions. He likened it to surveying chefs about their favorite restaurants.

Slavin said Mass. General sent Hopkins a gift basket and flowers today, returning a gesture paid to it last year.

“We hope they’ll be sending a basket to us next year,” he said. “We’ll see.”

See the full rankings, including specialties, on the U.S. News hospital site.