Check out the new comparison tool here

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released a “star rating” guide that allows consumers to do side-by-side comparisons of home health agencies in Sonoma County.

The online rating system, Home Health Compare, provides a summary of services offered at local home health agencies, as well as the results of patient surveys. Users are able to compare up to three agencies at a time.

The ratings may also help the agencies identify areas for improvement, said Dr. Patrick Conway, acting principal deputy administrator for the federal health care agency.

“Adding star ratings to Home Health Compare is another step forward in our continuing efforts to empower consumers by providing more information to help them make health care decisions, while also encouraging providers to strive for higher levels of quality,” Conway said in a statement.

A side-by-side comparison of the three largest local home health agencies — St. Joseph Home Care, Kaiser Foundation Hospital Home Health and Sutter Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice — shows that Sutter received 3.5 stars out of 5 for the overall quality of patient care rating. Kaiser and St. Joseph received three stars.

However, Kaiser received an 89 percent rating from the patient survey portion, compared to 86 percent for both St. Joseph and Sutter. The state and national averages are 86 and 88 percent respectively.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service said the new rating system is part of the federal Affordable Care Act’s push to make health care quality grades available online for consumers. CMS also publishes star ratings for nursing homes, physicians, Medicare Advantage plans, dialysis facilities and hospitals.

Lucy Andrews, vice chairwoman of the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, said the new guide could help agencies identify areas for improvement.

Andrews is the owner of At Your Service Home Care, with offices in Santa Rosa and Marin County. But the agency is not listed in the CMS guide because it is not a Medicare-certified provider.

“It can help us guide evidence-based practices,” Andrews said.

The new rating system features 29 measures of process, outcome and patient experience. The overall “Quality of Patient Care” star rating summarizes nine of these measures into a single star rating. State and national averages are provided for comparison.

Not all local home health agencies are rated. CMS said all Medicare-certified agencies are eligible to receive a rating, though they must satisfy a number of health care reporting requirements.

You can compare ratings online at http://medicare.gov/homehealthcompare/search.html

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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