In one of the first lawsuits of its type, a Chicago hospital is suing The Leapfrog Group, a Washington, D.C.-based national not-for-profit group that grades hospital quality performance, for the lowered grade that Leapfrog recently gave the hospital. St. Anthony Hospital, an independent, faith-based, 151-bed community hospital on Chicago’s Southwest Side, is suing The Leapfrog Group, which on its website describes itself as “a national nonprofit organization driving a movement for giant leaps forward in the quality and safety of American health care.” The lawsuit, which was initiated by St. Anthony on Oct. 30, has now been answered by Leapfrog in a Dec. 5 affirmative-defense filing that pushes back both on the timing of the hospital’s lawsuit and on its substance.
As Leapfrog notes, “The flagship Leapfrog Hospital Survey collects and transparently reports hospital performance, empowering purchasers to find the highest-value care and giving consumers the lifesaving information they need to make informed decisions. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, Leapfrog’s other main initiative, assigns letter grades to hospitals based on their record of patient safety, helping consumers protect themselves and their families from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections.”
Meanwhile, as Jenny Gold wrote in an article in Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post that was published on Dec. 11, “For two years, Saint Anthony Hospital here has celebrated its top-rated ‘A’ grade from the national Leapfrog Group that evaluates hospital safety records. But this fall, when executives opened a preview of their score, they got an unwelcome surprise: a ‘C.’ Hospitals take their ratings seriously,” Gold continued, “despite hospital industry experts’ skepticism about their scientific methodology and studies showing that scores may not have a huge influence on patient behavior. In a highly competitive market, no one wants to be a ‘C-‘rated safety hospital any more than a ‘C’-rated restaurant for cleanliness. So, the hospital didn’t take its new grade sitting down. It sued the ratings group for defamation, alleging that the grade was based on data that Leapfrog knew to be inaccurate.”
As Gold’s story reported, St. Anthony has filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, the county encompassing Chicago. In its complaint, filed on Oct. 30, the hospital contended that “If Leapfrog publishes a ‘C’ grade for Saint Anthony as part of its Fall 2017 Hospital Survey Grades, it will erase years of improvements at the hospital and irreparably degrade the public perception of the hospital,” according to the complaint, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. “Saint Anthony competes with other hospitals in the immediate area, including one down the street, and one of the most important ways Saint Anthony recently has been able to distinguish itself is the high safety grades it receives from Leapfrog.”
What’s more, St. Anthony Hospital directly challenged Leapfrog on the content of its grade. The hospitals lawyers wrote, “In its Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Hospital Safety Grades, Leapfrog assigned Saint Anthony an ‘A’ grade. However, on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, Leapfrog will publish a ‘C’ grade for Saint Anthony. That grade is wrong because it is based on Leapfrog’s incorrect assessment and statements that Saint Anthony physicians only order medications through CPOE 50-74 percent of the time, when in fact, Saint Anthony physicians order medications through CPOE approximately 95 percent of the time. Saint Anthony contacted Leapfrog on multiple occasions to discuss that it was misrepresenting CPOE statistics for Saint Anthony and Leapfrog’s representatives admitted that Saint Anthony’s CPOE score ‘negatively impacted [its] overall grade.’ Nevertheless, leapfrog informed Saint Anthony that it intends to publish the misrepresentations about CPOE and Hospital Safety Grade despite knowing they are wrong. Leapfrog’s impending publication of these false and disparaging representations are actionable under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, 815 ILCS 510/1 et seq., and common law defamation per se. Saint Anthony has instituted this Complaint seeking an order that will only restrain Leapfrog from publishing false numbers regarding Saint Anthony’s percentage of computerized physician orders for medications and the correspondingly incorrect Fall 2017 Hospital Safety Grade. Saint Anthony does not seek to stop the publication of any other hospital’s safety grade.”