Objective. Patient assessments of care are increasingly being considered an important dimension of quality of care. Few studies have examined the types and extent of problems identified by parents in the care of hospitalized children and whether hospital characteristics are associated with some of these problems. The objective of this study was to describe the quality of pediatric inpatient care as perceived by parents of hospitalized children and test whether hospital characteristics (academic status, market competition, freestanding children’s hospital) are associated with variations in quality.

Methods. We performed a cross-sectional analysis of surveys from 6030 parents of children who were discharged for a medical condition from 38 hospitals that used the Picker Institute’s Pediatric Inpatient Survey. The Pediatric Inpatient Survey measures 7 dimensions of inpatient care quality: partnership, coordination, information to parent, information to child, physical comfort, confidence and trust, and continuity and transition. Our main outcome measures included an overall quality of care rating (1 = poor, 5 = excellent), as well as overall and dimension-specific problem scores (0 = no problems, 100 = problems with 100% of processes asked about in the survey). We used Pearson correlation to determine the strength of association between the overall quality of care rating and dimension problem scores. We tested for associations between hospital characteristics and problem scores using linear regression models, controlling for patient health status and other socioeconomic status variables.

Results. Parents on average rated their child’s care as very good (mean: 4.2) but reported problems with 27% of the survey’s hospital process measures. Information to the child (33%) and coordination of care (30%) had the highest problem rates. Parent communication problems correlated most strongly with overall quality of care ratings (r = −0.49). Parents of children who were hospitalized at academic health centers (AHCs) reported 4% more problems overall (29.8% vs 25.5%) and almost 9% more problems with coordination of care (34.1% vs 25.6%) compared with those at non-AHCs. Parents in more competitive markets reported almost 3% more problems than those in the less competitive ones (28.9% vs 26.3%). The freestanding children’s hospital classification was not associated with overall problem scores. We found wide variation in problem scores by hospital, even among AHCs. Hospital and patient characteristics explained only 6% of the variance in problem scores.

Conclusions. Despite high subjective ratings of quality of care, measures of specific processes of care reveal significant variations among hospitals and identify areas with opportunities for improvement. Improving the quality of communication with the parent of a hospitalized child may have the most positive impact on a hospital’s overall quality of care rating. AHCs and hospitals in more competitive markets may be more prone to problems. With wide variation in parental perceptions of hospital quality of care, a systems analysis of individual hospitals may provide strategies for hospitals to deliver higher quality care.

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