Why You Want to Be Careful About Choosing a Hospital

We’ve all been bombarded with ads telling us to choose a hospital because it’s “highly rated.” A new study shows there’s real truth behind the underlying message. Your quality of treatment can vary quite a bit, even from two hospitals that are right down the street from each other.

Healthgrades, an online service that rates hospitals and doctors on a scale of one to five stars, has released a new report on 4,500 short-term acute care hospitals across the U.S., assessing how they perform on 34 common procedures and conditions. The numbers are cautionary. According to the report, up to 219,568 lives could have been saved and 164,454 complications avoided between 2014–2016 if patients had all been treated at 5-star hospitals rather than those earning just one star (based on outcomes for Medicare patients).

Medical Errors Abound

Medical errors at hospitals and clinics are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming more than 250,000 lives per year according to the National Center for Health Statistics (only heart disease and cancer take more lives). Although it’s tough to stop and research a hospital in an emergency, it can be worth the effort in cases where you have time to consider where you will receive treatment. A key takeaway from the Healthgrades study, according to company statement, is that “Many consumers believe that hospital quality is standardized, though the reality is that…hospitals within close proximity of each other can have significant differences in complication and mortality rates for the same condition or procedure.”

Where To Research Hospitals

Healthgrades is a for-profit company, but it offers free hospital ratings here: https://www.healthgrades.com/find-a-hospital You can choose a hospital in your region and get ratings for key procedures and treatments, comparing your local hospital to national averages.

Another company offering hospital ratings is Leapfrog (http://www.leapfroggroup.org/hospital-choice/choosing-right-hospital) which provides a more general rating of how a hospital performs on safety (hypochondriacs may want to steer clear of seeing Leapfrog’s ratings for problems like “dangerous object left in patient’s body” and “surgical wound splits open”).

Medicare offers a slightly different system of ratings on quality of care at 4,000 U.S. hospitals at https://www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html. It includes a good side-by-side comparison of several local hospitals, with information drawn from patient surveys and quality ratings on sample procedures like hip/knee replacements.

It’s not unusual to find variations in how one hospital scores on these different rating services. As a result, it’s always a good idea to use the most classic research method of all: ask your doctor. He or she will probably have a good awareness of the quality of clinical care at a hospital, based on many experiences. That can be more valuable than the impression of a friend who may have been to a particular hospital just once.