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Choose the Best Hospital

Tips for learning about your hospital’s track record

Choose a Hospital

Sam Kaplan

Research tools are available to help you find the best facility for your medical needs.

While picking the right surgeon is crucial to the success of your procedure, it isn't the only factor. You’ll also want to find out the track record of the hospital and staff that will provide your care.

A 2009 study by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Tufts University looked at outcomes after coronary artery bypass surgery. They found that high volumes of procedures were not the whole story. Hospitals that failed to follow safety measures — such as giving beta-blockers to patients before surgery — had higher mortality rates. 

A 2015 Johns Hopkins study of patients undergoing colon and rectal operations came to similar conclusions. Hospitals that implemented a quality-improvement program — which included getting patients to take antibiotics and drink fluids to prevent dehydration, and cleansing the skin with antiseptics before the operation — speeded recovery, decreased rates of surgical site infection by more than half and shortened hospital stays by two days.

“The success of a surgery depends on the team around the doctor,” says Andrew Auerbach of the University of California, San Francisco and lead author of the 2009 cardiac outcomes study. “Mortality rates, length of stay and readmission rates are global indicators of how well a hospital works.”

Ask Questions, Conduct Research

The National Library of Medicine has a checklist on how to choose the best hospital. It suggests asking the hospital some specific, probing questions.

  • Does it have a special floor or unit just for the type of surgery you’re having? 
  • Does it have operating rooms that are used only for your type of surgery?
  • Does it have guidelines for everyone getting the surgery you’re about to receive? This guarantees a consistency of excellence.
  • How many nurses are in the department, and how many patients do they handle? 
  • How often have surgeries like yours been performed? (Volume is a good thing.) Next, explore the quality measures that the hospital reports to the public. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service has rated 4,000 hospitals nationwide based on 57 quality measures and best practices. Put in your zip code to to find report cards for hospitals in your area. They contain a large amount of useful data and reviews, including:  
    • patient surveys about the quality of the care they received;
    • timeliness and effectiveness of care;
    • surgery complication rates — such as blood clots or infections;
    • readmission and mortality rates.

Finally, do additional research. Other organizations collect and share data on hospitals as well. Here are additional ways to learn about your hospital’s quality.

  • Is the hospital accredited by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve health care quality and safety? Find out at
  • Find out the hospital’s ratings from independent consumer advocacy groups. Places to look include nonprofit organizations like the Leapfrog Group, which conducts extensive surveys to gather hospital information on behalf of consumers, and national media sources like U.S. News & World Report and Consumer Reports. Also ask your insurer if it rates hospitals.

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