By Heather Millar
As a patient, it’s not easy to cut through all the marketing hype and figure out whether the hospital where you’re getting care is a good one. Health care experts have called for more accurate performance data on doctors and hospitals for, well, as long as I’ve been a patient and a health and science reporter. There’s been some progress, but it’s still pretty murky out there. Many national surveys rely upon hospital-reported data, which might not always be accurate. Others are too technical for the average person to interpret, or they emphasize more business-related measures such as hospital finances or the age of facilities.
Obviously, you don’t want to be treated at a hospital that’s falling down and bankrupt, but I’d also advise against being too wowed by a swanky lobby or space age equipment. New isn’t always better, and fancy upholstery doesn’t save your life.
Check out these databases to start:
- Medicare Hospital Compare provides data about the care at 4,000 Medicare-approved hospitals. At their website, you can download their Guide to Choosing a Hospital.
- Leapfrog, a non-profit, employer-sponsored heathcare research group, has recently started issuing hospital safety scores.
- Truven Health Analytics releases an annual 100 Top Hospitals list using independent data. The list includes small community hospitals as well as giant medical centers. Look to see if your hospital is on the current list, or has been in the past.
If you find the databases intimidating, Leapfrog, the employer group, recommends asking about four simple things:
- Does your hospital have an aggressive hand-washing policy? According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 20 patients will get an infection at the hospital. Each year more than 180,000 Medicare recipients die from infections they caught in the hospital.
- Does your hospital have a low rate of “central line infections,” that is, infections transmitted through IV lines? These can also be deadly.
- Does your hospital have adequate nursing staff? Does your hospital regularly conduct employee safety courses? Your oncologist may be the one who determines the course of your treatment, but it’s the nurses and techs who will do the day-to-day care.
- What is your hospital doing to prevent falls while in the hospital?
Are there any questions you would add to this list? Are there additional resources you would recommend?