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How do you choose a hospital?

Written by Diane Archer

Some hospitals are a lot better than others at caring for people. All kinds of factors go into whether a hospital will provide you with the care you need and not jeopardize your health. So, how do you choose a hospital? You might want to check out Medicare’s Hospital Compare, which will shortly include new quality ratings of more than 3,300 hospitals.

Medicare has been collecting data on hospitals and rating them on Hospital Compare for some time, based on more than eight dozen factors. It has released data on hospitals with high readmission rates and hospitals that it has penalized, which you might want to avoid. You can also learn about hospital-acquired infections.

To date, Hospital Compare has not provided overall hospital ratings. Now, Medicare plans to take 62 independent ratings and roll them up into a five-star rating system on Hospital Compare. Questions that are factored into the star-rating system include:

  • How frequently do patients get an infection after surgery?
  • The average wait patients have in the Emergency Department before seeing a doctor?
  • How often do patients develop complications after hip replacement surgery?
  • Chances of patients being readmitted to the hospital after a heart attack?
  • The number of times patients receive CT scans or MRI’s?

According to Kaiser Health News, only 102 hospitals will get five-star ratings from Medicare. Medicare will rate almost half of all hospitals average. And, hospitals that serve people with low incomes will rate less well than other hospitals. Medicare star ratings likely do not tell the whole story, and you should not rely exclusively upon them.

If you are choosing a hospital, you should also visit the Informed Patient Institute, a non-profit that grades the different entities rating hospitals in each state. Right now, the IPI gives Medicare’s Hospital Compare a B grade. One concern has been that in the past there has been no way to get an overall sense of a hospital’s quality, which the new Medicare Compare star ratings address. Another concern is that Medicare has not collected information on several measures.

You should also check out hospital ratings on Consumer Reports, rooted in scientifically based data on patient experiences and outcomes. Consumer Reports offers an overall safety score as well as a score for each individual score component, by state and hospital.

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