A new report by Consumer Reports, titled "Your safer-surgery survival guide," has ignited debate after ranking high-profile hospitals, such as the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, lower than expected when it comes to surgical and post-surgical quality care.

Consumer Reports is a non-profit organization that tests products to help consumers make decisions about spending their money. It was founded in 1936, when advertising began to gain more influence in the marketplace; its goal was to independently provide unbiased reports on products, so consumers could be guided by factual information rather than advertising rhetoric.

The study was completed by Consumers Union (CU), the policy division of Consumer Reports. CU only had limited access to data, so the accuracy of the ratings is questionable, several healthcare professionals note. The report tracked Medicare claims for 27 different kinds of surgery; many of the patients recorded were already old and sick. However, Paul Levy, former Best Israel Deaconess Medical Center president, believes the report is a "step in the right direction" when it comes to gaining transparency in healthcare data.

"To whatever extent you can empower patients to get better care and become partners in pushing the healthcare system to make improvements is to the good," Levy said.

With the assistance of Michael Pine and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in medical claims, the CU study measured the overall quality of care at 2,463 U.S. hospitals throughout the 50 states by the number of Medicare patients who died in the hospital during or after surgery, and by the number of those who stayed in the hospital longer than expected post-surgery. This type of measurement is currently used by some other hospitals to track quality, the report states.

Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, believes it is fairly common sense at this point that many teaching hospitals, though they are considered excellent academic centers, may not always be the best for quality care. He is the author of a book on the subject titled, Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.

"For a complex procedure you're probably better off at a well-known academic hospital, but for many common operations less-known, smaller hospitals have mastered the procedures and may do even better," he told Reuters.

The ratings sparked debate over whether they gave consumers a real picture about hospital care quality. Hospitals with big reputations, like the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, were ranked among other mid-tier or lesser known hospitals. The Cleveland Clinic's chief quality officer said CU's methodology might be questionable.

Dr. John Santa, medical director at Consumer Reports Health, is aware of the report's limitations, but he believes it will help to "stimulate debate and irritate people" in order to prod hospitals and healthcare facilities to be more transparent with quality of care data. The American College of Surgeons, for example, measures quality of surgeries and their outcomes, such as infections — but it doesn't release this information to the public due to a confidentiality agreement with the hospitals.

For more information on your hospital's safety and how to improve hospital safety as a patient, visit ConsumerReports.org.