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Medical ratings: Western Washington good, but not the best

Where you live definitely affects the quality of your health care. That’s clear in a new report comparing communities across the country. Western Washington is divided into three zones and they all score above average – but not in the top 10 percent.

The best score goes to the Everett/Snohomish/Skagit area.

The lowest rated area, locally, is Olympia/Thurston/Lewis. (You can compare the scores on this interactive map.)

The scorecard comes from a reputable source – the Commonwealth Fund, which studies health systems and aims to help leaders make improvements. Cathy Schoen, vice president for research at the Fund, says the variations are notable:

"Although we think the U.S. has the best health care in world, we have these wide variations, and you may not be getting a health system that’s excellent for you, when you look at overall outcomes."

How we rate

In general, western Washington does better than most of the country at preventing unnecessary hospital use, and at public health goals, such as reducing smoking.  But the region does worse in the categories of “access” (such as, how many people lack health insurance or don’t have a primary doctor) and “treatment”  (which means how well doctors, hospitals and nursing homes deliver the right treatments to patients).

The Everett area was singled out as one of the best areas in the country at keeping people out of the hospital and at preventing low birth-weight babies.

The highest-ranked communities tend to be in the Minnesota-Wisconsin-Iowa area or in northern California. At the bottom were communities across the South, particularly in Texas (including high-tech centers in Houston and Dallas).

'Wide variations'

From the Fund's website:

Comparing the 306 local health care areas, known as hospital referral regions, in the United States, the report finds wide variations on key indicators of health system performance. Access to care, quality of care, costs, and health outcomes all vary significantly from one local community to another, both within larger states and across states.

Schoen says the point is for each region to look for where it can improve:

"What we are hoping is each community will say, 'Where is a place that’s like us that’s doing better – and what are they doing?' "

The idea is a place like Seattle, with its prominent, high-tech medical centers, should consider looking at Minneapolis or Boston, which rated higher overall, particularly when it comes to how treatments are delivered. 

The overall Top-20 communities, as ranked by the Fund's 43 indicators:

  1. St. Paul, MN
  2. Dubuque, IA
  3. Rochester, MN
  4. Minneapolis, MN
  5. Appleton, WI
  6. Santa Rosa, CA
  7. La Crosse, WI
  8. St. Cloud, MN
  9. Manchester, NH
  10. San Mateo County, CA
  11. Cedar Rapids, IA
  12. Green Bay, WI
  13. Lancaster, PA
  14. Neenah, WI
  15. Arlington, VA
  16. Fargo/Moorhead MN, ND
  17. Honolulu, HI
  18. Hartford, CT
  19. Portland, ME
  20. Iowa City, IA


Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.