SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Medical Center's pulmonology program, the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute and the U.'s Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic all received top 50 designations Tuesday in the 28th annual U.S. News & World Report Best Hospital Rankings.
The rankings, which analyzed more than 4,500 hospitals in 25 specialties, also recognized University of Utah Health Care Hospitals and Clinics, and Intermountain Medical Center with a lesser, un-numbered "high-performing" ranking in the areas of urology, ophthalmology and nephrology.
The U. also ranked as "high performing" in orthopedics, pulmonology, and neurology and neurosurgery. Intermountain Medical Center was rated the same in knee replacement surgery, heart failure treatment, heart bypass surgery, ophthalmology, urology, nephrology, and diabetes and endocrinology.
The U.'s operations ranked No. 1 in the state, followed by Intermountain Medical Center, and no other Utah hospitals were recognized by the report. That marks a change from last year, when Utah Valley Regional Medical Center — now Utah Valley Hospital — and Dixie Regional Medical Center were also ranked.
Ears, nose and throat
The U.'s Ears, Nose & Throat Clinic achieved the highest ranking of any specialty in the state, coming in at No. 18 after being unranked last year.
Dr. Clough Shelton, director of otolaryngology, the field of ears, nose and throat treatment, said he was "thrilled and very proud" of the clinic's ranking but not necessarily surprised.
"We have a great team of faculty who not only are they really good doctors, but they are innovative people who are doing excellent research," Shelton said. "I think that has helped attract some recognition to our program."
Otolaryngology, which includes everything from hearing loss to difficulty swallowing, is "a diverse specialty" and "a very competitive specialty," making the new ranking especially rewarding, he said.
"We see this as an affirmation of the work that we've done," Shelton said.
The U.S. News report ranked Intermountain Medical Center's pulmonary program 48th, marking "the first time in its 10 year history" that a specialty at the hospital has landed in the top 50, said Intermountain Healthcare spokesman Jess Gomez.
Dr. Denitza Blagev, director of Intermountain's Schmidt Chest Clinic and a pulmonologist at Intermountain Medical Center, was quick to share the credit.
"Not even just the pulmonary division, but I think one of the strengths we have is … really good collaborations with the other departments at Intermountain — cardiology to radiology (to) oncology," Blagev told the Deseret News.
"Having this collaboration really communicates to our patients that we really are excellent at what we do and we do it because want to help people," she said.
Such collaboration allows lung patients to get comprehensive care as quickly as possible for their related health problems, Blagev said.
Gomez credited the program's ability to rapidly and precisely identify patients for common illnesses such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as much rarer illnesses such as pulmonary hypertension.
He also cited "some of the best outcome rates in the nation" and innovative practices that include "advances in telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring."
Huntsman Cancer Institute was ranked No. 38, a jump of nine spots from last year's report. Dr. Jon Sweetenham, senior director for clinical affairs at the institute, said the center's reach likely played a big role in its high ranking.
"(We've been) expanding our clinical research efforts so we can reach a wider number of patients and give them cutting-edge therapies," Sweetenham said. "We have been able to serve an increasing proportion of the Intermountain West so we see patients from (throughout the) region. I think all of that has actually enhanced our reputation."
Despite the abundance of medical rankings, those submitted by U.S. News are known to carry a lot of weight, he said, because of how thorough and long-running they are.
"Many potential physicians who might come to work here do take note," Sweetenham said. "Patients who come here do take note of those rankings."
Although the large majority of the ranking methodology focused on clinical operations rather than research, Sweetenham said Huntsman Cancer Institute's renowned research side is a rising tide that lifts all boats, as one of only 48 organizations designated as comprehensive cancer centers by the National Cancer Institute.
"We have had very robust research for many years now," he said.
Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle cited patients' happiness with their care as tightly connected to the high ranking.
“Our patient satisfaction surveys have frequently placed the cancer center in the top percentile nationally," Beckerle said in a statement. "It is gratifying to see (the institute) included in such a distinguished peer group of hospitals through this rigorous assessment of our cancer care programs.”
Neither the U. or Intermountain were ranked "below average" in any applicable specialty.
U.S. News' methodology included "risk-adjusted survival and readmission rates, volume, patient experience, patient safety and quality of nursing," according to the magazine.
Along with objective numerical data across more than 2,600 metrics, 125,000 doctors nationwide were surveyed for their "expert opinion on where they would send their most challenging cases," the U.S. News explained. The study put 152 hospitals in the top 50 in at least one specialty area.
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, claimed the honor of top overall hospital in the report, followed by the Cleveland Clinic, Baltimore's John Hopkins Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco.