AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Which hospitals are best at knee and hip replacements? We have the data.

When it comes to quality measures for hip and knee replacements, not all Georgia hospitals are equal.

Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta posts the best scores for joint replacement procedures with a complication rate of 1.4 percent. That's half the statewide complication rate for knee and hip replacements and well below the 4 percent complication rate posted at some hospitals in the area, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution study of federal quality data for joint replacement surgeries.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just updated its hospital quality website, which includes a robust analysis of joint replacement data. Click here to check out the site, which also includes hospital-specific ratings on healthcare-associated infections and labor and delivery services.

In addition to complication rates for knee and hip operations, the federal ratings also include information about how often patients have to return to the hospital after undergoing a joint replacement procedure.

Emory Saint Joseph's also posts the area's best readmission rate for joint replacements at 3.3 percent, with Emory University Hospital coming in a close second at 3.4 percent. On the other end of the rankings, Southern Regional Medical Center's readmission rate was 6.4 percent and Piedmont Henry Hospital's rate was 6.3 percent.

The national readmission rate after hip or knee surgery is 4.8 percent.

The joint replacement statistics examined by the AJC include only patients covered by original Medicare who underwent procedures during a three-year study period between 2011 and 2014.

Joint replacements have grown in popularity and offer life-changing relief from hip and knee pain for thousands of Americans every year. While these procedures are relatively low in risk, they are far from risk free. Infections can be extremely dangerous and difficult to combat. Also, the implants can fail and some patients suffer nerve damage.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took an in-depth look at the risks of joint replacement surgeries in a special report published last year. Because most joint replacements are an elective procedure planned weeks or months in advance, consumers can take the time to ask questions and do some research before picking a surgeon and a hospital.

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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.