University of Iowa hospitals rank nationally in four specialties, fewer than years past

UIHC retains top spot in Iowa, per U.S. News

The main entrance to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, April 13, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/T
The main entrance to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, April 13, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics again has placed No. 1 in Iowa in the newest iteration of the oft-cited U.S. News & World Report’s best hospitals — which also ranked UIHC among the Top 50 nationally in four specialties.

“UI Hospitals and Clinics is the only hospital in Iowa to be ranked in the Top 50 in any specialty,” according to a UIHC news release on the rankings.

But four is the fewest number of specialties UIHC has been ranked in nationally in recent years, down from six last year; seven the year before; five in 2017-18; seven in 2016 and 2015; and nine in 2014, according to The Gazette’s review of previous rankings. UIHC officials noted methodologies used for the rankings change annually, “which is why the organization strongly discourages year-over-year comparisons.”

U.S. News reports its methodology has been “refined and extended” over time by, for example, incorporating patient experience across all specialties in 2019, when the rankings saw other larger changes, such as removal of patient safety data and a new risk-adjusted mortality measure. Adjustments to this year’s methodology involved changes in transparency and discharge data.

The 2020-21 Best Hospital rankings assessed data on 4,554 hospitals in 16 adult medical specialties, nine adult procedures and 10 pediatric specialties — which were updated in June. To achieve national ranking in a specialty, a hospital must “excel in caring for the sickest, most medically complex patients.”

Two UIHC specialties this year ranked in the Top 10 nationally, with its ophthalmology ranking holding steady at No. 6, and its ear, nose and throat ranking slipping one to No. 7.

UIHC’s gynecology specialty came in at No. 34 nationally, down from No. 19 last year; its cancer ranking at No. 41 bumped up from last year’s No. 43.


The hospital fell from top-50 status in two previously ranked specialties: pulmonology and orthopedics, both of which ranked No. 27 on the 2019-20 list. UIHC did achieve “high performing” status in those specialties this year, along with lung surgery, urology, and gastroenterology and GI surgery.

In a statement, UIHC Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran expressed pride in the campus’ continued placement among the country’s elite.

“This recognition is representative of the unwavering commitment from our faculty and staff to provide top-quality care to our patients and their families,” Gunasekaran said.

His hospital — like most others nationally — has been besieged by coronavirus-related concerns since March, translating to tens of millions in losses from canceled surgeries, delayed routine care, and new expenses for things like protective gear and equipment.

Through pay cuts, new efficiencies, and a ramp-up in resumed non-COVID-19 care — among other things — the hospital has lessened the blow originally projected at more than $100 million.

In identifying strategies to overcome continuing challenges prevalent across a coronavirus-complicated health care landscape, Gunasekaran has highlighted improved patient throughput, new administrative efficiencies, innovation, and growth in high-demand programs among the options.

By focusing on those programmatic areas Iowans need most, UIHC could bolster its standing in the rankings, designed to “help consumers determine, together in consultation with their physicians, which hospitals provide the best care for the most serious or complicated medical conditions and procedures,” according to U.S. News.

Rankings in 12 of the 16 specialties rely heavily on objective data — like survival rates, discharge data, volume, nursing, and other care-related statistics. Four specialties are considered “expert-opinion-based” and involve annual physician surveys.


The top 20 hospitals nationally — earning the highest rankings in the most specialties and procedures — are recognized on an “honor roll,” with the Mayo Clinic earning top billing this year. The Rochester, Minn.-based hospital ranked in 15 adult specialties — all in the Top 10; 13 in the top 5; and six at No. 1.

Across all 16 specialties, just 134 hospitals achieved national ranking in one or more specialties.

Neither of Cedar Rapids’ hospitals earned national repute, although both ranked in the 10 top in Iowa.

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital dropped from third to fourth in this year’s statewide ranking, earning “high performing” status in six adult procedures and conditions.

That hospital lost “high performing status” for pulmonology and lung surgery from last year.

Mercy Medical Center ranked sixth statewide, earning high-performing status in three adult procedures and conditions — including hip and knee replacement and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Mercy has not moved in the regional U.S. News rankings for several years.

Michaela Ramm, health care reporter for The Gazette, contributed to this report.

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