A new report card on hospital care for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia shows improvement.

More than 3,000 hospitals participated. Their marks improved virtually across the board.

The findings — based on the hospitals' own reports — appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Read Web MD's "Health Care Varies Greatly at U.S. Hospitals."

Making the Grade

The study was done by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), a not-for-profit group that evaluates and accredits health care organizations and programs in the U.S.

The group tracked 18 standardized measurements. For instance, the researchers wanted to know if heart attack patients were given aspirin and advice about quitting smoking.

Notable improvement was seen in 15 out of the 18 categories, write the JCAHO's Scott Williams, PsyD, and colleagues.

Read Web MD's "Medical Errors Still Plague U.S. Hospitals."

Which Hospitals Improved Most?

All of the hospitals participated for two years. Those that started with the lowest marks improved the most in 16 out of 17 categories.

'Reassuring' Results

The findings are "reassuring but not surprising," writes Patrick Romano, MD, MPH, in a related editorial.

"These studies confirm the long-recognized fact that repeatedly observed behaviors improve over time," he writes.

Romano also writes that variations in hospital performance for those three conditions vary less than in the past. And he further points out that most hospitalizations in the U.S. are not for one of these three conditions.

Read Web MD's "Where are the Best Hospitals in America?"

Room for Improvement

"We must not rest on our laurels and assume that we have solved the problem of quality," Romano writes.

"We have barely begun to touch quality-related problems in mental health and substance abuse care, pediatric care, and home health care," he writes.

"As physicians and health professionals, we have made a little progress, but we still have far to go in closing the 'quality chasm' that the Institute of Medicine recognized in 2001."

Read Web MD's "Diagnosing Your Doc: What You Should Know."

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Williams, S. The New England Journal of Medicine, July 21, 2005; vol 353: pp 255-264. Romano, P. The New England Journal of Medicine, July 21, 2005; vol 353: p 302. News release, University of California-Davis Health System.