The most recent results from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Star Rating System (the “refresh”) for dialysis providers were released in October. Depending on how you interpret the information, several providers claim they offer the best dialysis care in the country.

From their pressrooms:

“Fresenius Kidney Care Tops Government’s National Five-Star Quality Ratings”
WALTHAM, Mass.—(BUSINESSWIRE)—Fresenius Medical Care North America, the leading provider of kidney care products and services across the continent, announced today that its dialysis services business, Fresenius Kidney Care, achieved the country’s largest number of top-rated Five-Star dialysis centers…

“DaVita is the Clinical Leader in Government Five-Star Ratings”
DENVER, PRNewswire/ — DaVita Kidney Care, a division of DaVita Inc. (NYSE:DVA), the leading independent provider of integrated health and kidney care services in the United States, today announced that since the inception of the program and for the third year in a row, it has been recognized as the clinical leader in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Five-Star Quality Rating System. According to the latest government ratings, DaVita Kidney Care outperformed the rest of the industry.”

“CMS Five-Star Quality Rating System Identifies Satellite Healthcare as Leading 10 Largest Dialysis Providers in Percentage of Top-Rated Dialysis Centers”
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Satellite Healthcare today announced that it leads the industry with the highest percentage of top-rated dialysis centers among the 10 largest national dialysis providers[i], as indicated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Five-Star Quality Rating System.

 Northwest Kidney Centers took a more measured approach in talking about its success.

“Northwest Kidney Centers ranks high in national ratings of dialysis quality”
SEATTLE, Wash. – The patient care provided at Northwest Kidney Centers dialysis clinics is among the best in the nation, according to the annual Dialysis Facility Compare five-star quality rating system of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

One dull shine

The star rating system has been on a stormy path since CMS unveiled the program to the renal community in July 2014. Star ratings had already been started in nursing homes and home health agencies, and were also being planned for hospitals and eventually, physicians. So while the concept wasn’t new, dialysis providers did not “share the love” for what CMS cobbled together from other health care industries. Even kidney patient advocacy groups were lukewarm to the program, which was aimed at helping patients select a dialysis facility that offered quality care.

But things got better. CMS put together a technical expert panel that included members of the renal community to help refine the system. The most recent refresh from October re-organized the rating system so more clinics earned 4-5 stars (hence the positive press releases noted here).

Ultimately, the intent of a rating system, whether it be in dialysis, nursing home care, home health or hospitals, is to give consumers a reliable tool to measure quality––to help them rate providers and make important decisions about where they or family members should go for the best care. It’s really not about bragging rights to shareholders.

No doubt, flaws remain. A dialysis clinic in Connecticut, cited by state surveyors for numerous violations last year, was rated at 4 stars during that period––and improved to a five-star rating in the October refresh. Maybe deficiencies identified in a Medicare survey should be included in the ratings.

“Am I satisfied with my care? Good question.”

Kudos to CMS for placing more emphasis on using patient encounters and satisfaction surveys as part of measuring quality; other health care industries have had to face that music. Kidney patient associations can step up to the plate as well, evaluate the star rating data and help patients understand the value – and limitations. “Dialysis is a face-to-face business,” notes Northwest Kidney Centers CEO Joyce Jackson. “Patients come to our clinics three times a week to have their blood cleansed by a machine because their kidneys can’t do that work anymore. We know each one.”

Let’s take that kind of individualized approach and help patients make the right choices.