October 13, 2010

Comparing Hospital Quality

A relative of mine drives 250 miles to go to the hospitals in a larger city for non-emergency procedures.  He wants to take his family to the "best" hospitals that he can.   Unfortunately I think my relative has a biased view of the hospitals in his home town and has let one horror story he saw on the news unduly taint his opinion of his local hospitals.   If my relative had better data then he might not feel the need to take 5 your drives and spend extra money and hassle staying in hotels.

A while back I talked about shopping around for health care costs.   Its particularly important if you have a high deductible health insurance plan (like I do) to make sure that you are not overpaying for health care.   But it is also important to make sure that you go to a good medical facility and that you don't give up quality for the sake of cost savings.   So it is also very important to compare the quality of the medicine you receive.

Below are a few resources that you can use to measure hospital quality.   These could be used as pieces of data to help guide your decision but none of them should be taken as any sort of pass / fail judgment on a hospital.   A lower rating does not make an individual hospital "bad" nor does it mean you will get poor service there.  

The very best 
US News has a site with rankings of best hospitals.    The Top 100 Hospitals site from Thomson Reuters ranks top hospitals.  Either of these sites will help you find what they consider the "best" hospitals in the nation.   Of course such measures are not perfect and based on statistics and subjective opinions to some degree.   But if a hospital is on these lists then at minimum I think we can safely conclude its a pretty good hospital.

Survey results
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has a Hospital Comparison site.  If you put in your city or ZIP code you can then look up the hospitals in your area.   From there you can pick specific hospitals and get a comparison.  They give you the survey score results for a "Survey of Patients' Hospital Experiences".   The survey is described : "HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) is a national survey that asks patients about their experiences during a recent hospital stay."    When you compare a couple hospitals at the bottom of the first page on the results you see a score for two questions : "Patients who gave their hospital a rating of 9 or 10 on a scale from 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest)." and "Patients who reported YES, they would definitely recommend the hospital."  High scores on those two questions is a quick measure of general patient satisfaction with the hospital.   However that is a pretty subjective measure of quality and you should look a little deeper to make sure the other scores are also high.  

Health Grades Awards
You can use the site Health Grades to find hospitals in your area and see how they are rated for various procedures and if they are award winners in specific categories.  They give an award for the "America's 50 Best Hospitals Award"    They also give awards for things like ""Distinguished Hospital - Clinical Excellence Award", "Emergency Medicine Excellence Award" and "Patient Safety Excellence Award"

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