How Good Is Your Local Hospital?
The time to research it is now, before you need it
Not all hospitals are created equal. If you ever need one, your health and even your life may depend on how well equipped the facility is to treat your condition and even how clean and well organized it is.
More than 1,000 people a day die in U.S. hospitals due to preventable medication errors or other mistakes. All told, about 440,000 people a year, roughly the population of Miami, die from hospital safety mistakes.
Do you know how good your local hospital is, and what your options are? Now is the time to find out.
"People shouldn’t feel like they have only one hospital to go to because it is in their community and the one everyone else goes to," says Erica Mobley, a spokesperson for The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization and one of several groups that rate hospitals. Taking an active role in choosing your hospital is wise, she says. "Do it before you are sick."
Of course, if it's an emergency you may not have a choice in where the ambulance takes you (though you can make a request, which the driver may or may not honor depending on a variety of factors). But in plenty of situations, including non-emergencies, you may have a choice.
What is your hospital's safety score or reputation?
You can find out how your hospital performs on safety by doing some easy online research.
Hospital Safety Score. Start by going to Hospital Safety Score, Leapfrog's site. Search by zip code or city and state. Hospitals get a letter grade, from A to F. Of the more than 2,500 hospitals issued a score, 782 got an A, 719 a B, 859 a C, 143 a D and 20 an F in the most recent ratings. Users can compare previous scores to see if the hospital is improving or declining.
The score is calculated by evaluating data from Leapfrog's own hospital survey and data from a variety of other sources, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In all, it looks at 28 measures, such as how often the hospital follows treatment recommendations (such as giving an antibiotic right before surgery) and outcome measures (such as how often surgeons leave foreign objects, such a sponge or surgical instrument, in patients after surgery).
Hospital Compare. To find out how Medicare rates your hospital, go to Hospital Compare. You can search for hospitals by zip code or facility name. (The list even includes children’s hospitals.) The tool tells let you compare two or more hospitals’ complication rates, unplanned readmission rates (how often patients released from the hospital need to return within 30 days due to a problem), death rates and effective care rates for certain conditions. The effective care rates are based on whether the hospitals provide care that research shows gets the best results for conditions such as heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.
You can even compare how well the nurses communicate and see how the hospital compares with others in your state and with the national norm.
Your State Department. Your state department of health may also issue a report card on health care facilities. For instance, Illinois has its Illinois Hospital Report Card, allowing residents to look up and compare hospitals by city, facility name, zip code or county. Clicking on various tabs gives information about safety, patient satisfaction other details. You can compare facilities to each other.
On any of these tools, look for information related to the area you expect to need care for, Mobley says. If you have a heart condition, for instance, see how the hospital performs on heart surgery. Look at how quickly they treat a heart attack, when minutes count.
Don't overlook comments from patients included in many of the ratings and reports. Details such as ''how well the nurse communicated" count. Research by Consumer Reports found patients who were rarely treated well by hospital staff were 2.5 times more likely to have a serious problem in the hospital, such as developing an infection or getting an incorrect diagnosis.
If a hospital has many unhappy patients, notice how it compares with other hospitals in your area and with the national norm.
Help for specific conditions
Some hospitals specialize in or excel at treating certain conditions. If you happen to develop one of those conditions, you may be better off at one of those hospitals.
For example, if you have stroke risk factors, including a family history of stroke, find out if a hospital near you has a certified Comprehensive Stroke Center. Certification indicates the center is equipped to handle the most complex stroke cases. Research has found improved survival for patients with hemorrhagic strokes treated in those hospitals. The Joint Commission has a list of comprehensive stroke centers.
Other research has found better treatment and results if cancer patients received treatment at a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center. For instance, a recent study found women with ovarian cancer survived longer if they received care at a comprehensive facility compared to other hospitals. The National Cancer Institute has a list of comprehensive cancer centers.
What about emergencies?
If a loved one falls down the stairs and suffers a serious head injury, your regular hospital may not do; he may need a trauma center, where the doctors are equipped to deal with certain types of major injuries. Does your hospital have a trauma center?
The American Trauma Society maintains a list of trauma centers across the country. Trauma centers are classified as level 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 based on the kinds of resources available and the number of patients admitted each year. (The highest level is 1.) The American Trauma Society site makes it easy to locate the trauma center nearest you — a good piece of information for everyone to know.
Treating rare or complex problems
If your condition is rare or requires complicated treatment, you may want to check out U.S. News & World Report's annual list of best hospitals. The publication also ranks the top hospitals by specialty, such as cancer, cardiology, gynecology, psychiatry and orthopedics. The annual list is meant, the publication editors say, to guide patients who need unusual or complex care. The report also has a list of regional hospitals that offer outstanding care for more common conditions and needs.