In what has become a rite of summer, the Johns Hopkins Hospital has been ranked the nation's best hospital in U.S. News & World Report's annual survey of medical centers. It is the fifth consecutive year that the top honor has gone to Hopkins.
The magazine has been rating American hospitals for six years.
Besides receiving the highest ranking overall, Hopkins was rated best in four specialties: ophthalmology, gynecology, urology and otolaryngology -- the field involving disorders of the ear, nose and throat.
Hopkins finished second in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, rheumatology, gastroenterology and neurology. The hospital was among the best in 15 of 16 specialties examined by the national news magazine.
"We are obviously pleased that we are No. 1 and plan to stay there," said Dr. James A. Block, the hospital president. "This is clearly a reflection of the physicians, nurses, all the employees, everyone who is associated with this institution."
Hopkins outranked such eminent medical centers as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, which ranked second and third, respectively.
Two other local hospitals ranked high in particular specialties. The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson was rated the nation's eighth best psychiatric center. The University of Maryland Medical Center ranked 33rd in AIDS, 37th in otolaryngology, 38th in gastroenterology, and 40th in neurology.
All told, 1,631 hospitals were considered.
The ratings, which will appear in the magazine next week, were determined with the help of the National Opinion Research Center, an independent research firm that polled 2,400 physicians representing various specialties and all geographic regions. About half the doctors answered the poll.
The firm is based at the University of Chicago.
Using a mathematical model devised by the center, U.S. News combined the last three "reputational surveys" with several "objective" measures of hospital quality. These include death rates, nurse-to-bed ratios, the percentage of doctors certified by specialty organizations and the degree to which the hospital uses new technology.
In some ways, Hopkins received even greater recognition than it did last year, when it earned a top rating in only one specialty -- gynecology -- while rating best overall.
"I'm delighted that our department has been recognized as No. 1," said Dr. Charles W. Cummings, chairman of otolaryngology, which rose from second to first. "I think that is actually due to the superb faculty that we have, and also to the traditions that have been established in the past."
Dr. Cummings said the department is considered premier in several areas. These include otology, the study of the ear, and otoneurology, the study of dizziness and nerve-related hearing loss, and the management of head and neck tumors.
Hopkins is inviting its employees to a celebration at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on the lawn in front of the Broadway entrance.
The hospital has capitalized on its first-place finishes, touting them in advertisements placed in the broadcast and print media. In the past year, for instance, Hopkins has mentioned the No. 1 ranking in ads that urge consumers to demand that their employer-provided insurance plans cover stays at Hopkins.
"There are few objective measures, and this is one of them," said Elaine Freeman, executive director of communications and public affairs for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "There's nothing wrong with being among the top hospitals in the country. But we are, and you cannot help but be pleased to be singled out for five straight years as the top."
Dr. Block said the rating has helped the hospital promote itself internationally as well as nationally. Last month, for instance, 230 patients from foreign countries traveled to Hopkins for hospital and outpatient care. About the same number visited Hopkins in all of 1991, he said.
Not everyone says the U.S. News rankings are statistically meaningful.
Jean Chenoweth, senior vice president of HCIA Inc., a medical information firm in Baltimore, said the survey is a "beauty contest" because it relies too heavily on opinions that may reflect past rather than current achievements.
HCIA, on the other hand, conducts an annual survey that relies solely on what she considers objective criteria. Those include death and complication rates, average lengths of stay, the charge for each discharged patient and measures of financial viability.
"We aren't trying to measure the hospital by reputation," she said. "We only care about actual performance."
Hopkins didn't suffer when subjected to that test.
The hospital made the top-100 list in the most recent HCIA survey, released in November. The 100 medical centers are not ranked but are simply listed alphabetically in various categories.
Hopkins was one of only 15 teaching hospitals and the only Baltimore-area hospital to make that list.
BEST MEDICAL CENTERS
The nation's top medical centers, according to U.S. News & World Report's 1995 survey:
1. Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
3. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
4. UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
5. Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
6. Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland
7. University of California San Francisco Medical Center, San Francisco
8. Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
9. University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
10. Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, and University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle (tie)
12. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, Calif. (tie)
14. New York University Medical Center, New York, and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City (tie)
16. University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor
17. New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center, New York
18. University of Chicago Hospitals