Most of them measure what are called “processes of care,” which, if a hospital performs well on them, are thought to lead to better outcomes. On many, Carney appeared to perform similarly to the national and the Massachusetts averages. A couple of numbers stood out, however. When it came to patients having outpatient surgery, only 65 percent of them were given an antibiotic one hour before surgery to help prevent infection. And just 83 percent got the right kind of antibiotic. That number is questionable, though, says Medicare, because the number of cases was too small to be sure how well a hospital was performing.

The numbers were better for patients having in-patient surgery and receiving the right antibiotic in a timely way. But Carney told the government that its data for this measure was based on a sample of cases. So, then, the rates are ambiguous and may not indicate the hospital does a better job with patients having surgery in the hospital. Giving patients the right antibiotic at the right time is low-tech medicine, but it’s critical to a good outcome. There aren’t too many press releases that talk about that. All of which means journos must dig deeper to get the real story.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.