Hospital ratings are becoming like the star system for hotels – with so many organisations offering inspections for cash that they are meaningless.
Although some ratings experts market their accreditation as official, expats will find few, if any, will handle their complaints or make compensation awards for poor treatment.
Take the Bolivar Medical Centre in Cleveland, Mississippi, USA as an example.
The small community hospital with 127 beds was logged as bottom in a US hospital safety report covering 2,500 medical units, scoring just 11 out of a possible 100 marks.
The administrators were bewildered as the hospital had won an approved gold seal from the international Joint Care Commission on Healthcare Accreditation three years running.
That’s not all; the hospital was also awarded the commission’s top performer and won an extra award in hospital safety from the Leapfrog Group.
The Bolivar’s concerns should also be worries for expats.
In many cases, hospital accreditation is bought by the hospital meeting certain inspection standards and staff attending the appropriate courses.
Accreditation groups make their money out of these inspections and courses and are generally not customer service orientated.
The grey area in rating hospital care on a global basis has been picked up by the United Nations, which is proposing yet another international accreditation scheme.
“Hospitals sell their services on the back of these accreditation schemes but nowhere do they mention performance measures like complaints against staff, mortality and survival rates or standards of care,” said a UN spokesman.
“Picking a hospital based on information online and accreditation is pretty much a lottery as hospitals write their own web sites and Wikipedia pages that may not fully reflect what actually goes on inside the clinics and operating theatres.”
But the crucial issue is liability when something goes wrong.
Accreditation schemes do not offer any independent complaint process – and if they did, they represent the hospital not the patient.
Medical liability for expats varies between countries and regulators and probably comes down to the medical insurance policy held by the patient.
As medical tourism becomes more popular and offering treatment becomes lucrative big business for private hospitals in India and the Asia Pacific, expats need to make sure they are fully covered by insurance should their treatment go wrong.