Most people don't give much thought when it comes to choosing a hospital, but selecting the right one can be as important as the doctor you choose. Here are some tips and resources to help you research and check up on your area hospitals.
While you may not always have the opportunity to choose your hospital, especially in the case of an emergency, having a planned procedure can offer you a variety of choices.
When shopping for a hospital, the most important criterion is to find one that has a strong department in your area of need. A facility that excels in coronary bypass surgery, for example, may not be the best choice for a knee replacement. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they're treated in hospitals that have extensive experience with their specific condition.
In order to choose a hospital that's best for you, it is important to discuss your concerns and alternatives with the doctor who is treating you. Some doctors may be affiliated with several hospitals from which you can choose. Or, if you've yet to select a doctor, finding a top hospital that has expertise with your condition can help you determine which physician to actually choose.
Another important reason to do some research is the all too frequent occurrence of hospital infections, which kill around 75,000 people in the U.S. each year. So checking your hospital's infection rates and cleanliness procedures is also a wise move.
Today, there are a number of online resources that provide hospital safety and performance data to help you research and compare facilities. Because hospitals are such complex places, it's wise to get information from a variety of sources. Here is a summary of some top guides.
Hospital Compare (medicare.gov/hospitalcompare): Operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this free tool lets you compare general quality of care, as well as care for many medical conditions and surgical procedures in more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals.
Consumer Reports Hospital Rankings (consumerreports.org/hospitalratings): If you don't mind spending a few dollars ($7 for one month or $30 per year), Consumer Reports ranks 4,500 hospitals in all 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The reliable resource provides information on up to 34 performance and safety measures.
U.S. News & World Report (usnews.com/best-hospitals): This online publishing resource identifies the best hospitals for 16 specialties, and provides rankings by metro area and by specialty for free.
Healthgrades (healthgrades.com): A private, for-profit organization, they provide free hospital ratings on patient safety and medical procedures, and scores hospitals using a 5-star scale.
The Commonwealth Fund (whynotthebest.org): This is a private foundation that provides free performance data on all U.S. hospitals.
The Joint Commission (qualitycheck.org): This is a not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the U.S. Hospitals receive a checkmark for each set of measures they have met. But there's no way to tell whether a hospital is stronger in one area over another.
Hospital Inspections (hospitalinspections.org): Established by the Association of Health Care Journalist, this focuses on violations and inspection reports.
The Leapfrog Group (hospitalsafetyscore.org): This national, not-for-profit organization grades hospitals on their overall performance in keeping patients safe. Use your city, state or ZIP code to search more than 2,500 hospitals.
VA Hospital Compare (www.hospitalcompare.va.gov): If you're a veteran, you can research and compare VA medical centers here.
Editor's Note: Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.