New data shows in-hospital death rates in Alberta are below the national average and suggest quality and safety is steadily improving.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released its 2011-12 Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio (HSMR) data Thursday where it looked at 82 acute care hospitals across Canada, including nine Alberta hospitals.

HSMR is a ratio of actual deaths in hospitals to expected deaths, after adjusting for factors that may affect death rates, such as the age, sex, and diagnosis and admission status of patients.

The national average is weighted to be 100, an HSMR of less than 100 is considered to be better than the national average.

Alberta’s HSMR value was ranked at 88, which means that for every 100 hospitalized patients likely to die, there were 88 deaths that actually happened.

Alberta Health Services says this is less deaths than the year before, when Alberta’s HSMR was 93. AHS says this is the third year of improvements, showing a decrease in in-hospital death rates.

“We are pleased to see the risk of in-patient mortality is reducing and will continue to strive for the safest quality of health care possible for Albertans,” Carolyn Hoffman, acting senior vice president, quality and healthcare improvement for Alberta Health Services, said in a news release.

All nine Alberta hospitals identified by CIHI had death rates that were better than the national average.

The rankings are:

  • Royal Alexandra Hospital ranked at 88.
  • University of Alberta Hospital ranked at 91.
  • Misericordia Hospital ranked at 92.
  • Grey Nuns Hospital ranked at 94.
  • Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre ranked at 92.
  • Foothills Medical Centre ranked at 77.
  • Peter Lougheed Centre ranked at 81.
  • Rockyview General Hospital ranked at 81.
  • Chinook Regional Hospital ranked at 96.

Hoffman said AHS uses HSMR data as part of its ongoing efforts to improve patient care. Some of those initiatives include creating teams who quickly gauge whether a patient whose critical condition has changed is in danger of seriously deteriorating, creating a checklist used by surgical teams to reduce preventable surgical complications, and creating protocol to reduce peak pressures in patient flow in some of the province’s busiest emergency rooms.

“While HSMR improvements cannot be ascribed to any one action, we believe this positive trend is related to the work of staff and medical staff across the province as they have implemented a range of quality and safety initiatives,” she said.

The data suggests fewer people are dying in acute care facilities across Canada.

CHIH says the HSMR value decreased for 16 per cent of participating hospitals outside of Quebec in 2011-12 compared to 2010-11.

In total:

  • Four hospitals across Canada had an HSMR significantly above 100
  • Fourty-two hospitals across Canada had an HSMR significantly below 100
  • Thirty-six hospitals across Canada had an HSMR not significantly different from 100

The HSMR is a performance indicator that hospitals in Canada have been using for years to monitor changes over time and identify areas for improvement.