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Hospital Care: Does Your State Rate?

All states -- even ones at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to hospital care -- have good hospitals and bad hospitals. What do you look for in a good hospital?

Finding a Quality Hospital

How can you choose the best quality hospital for the care you need? It is important to consider quality because research shows that some hospitals simply do a better job than others. For example, we know that hospitals that do a greater number of the same surgeries have better outcomes for their patients.

Look for a hospital that:

  • Is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • Is rated highly by state or consumer or other groups
  • Is one where your doctor has privileges, if that is important to you
  • Is covered by your health plan
  • Has experience with your condition
  • Has had success with your condition
  • Checks and works to improve its own quality of care

Asking the Right Questions

Asking the right questions can help you make the best choices.

Does the hospital meet national quality standards?

Hospitals can choose to be surveyed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) to make sure they meet certain quality standards. The standards address the quality of staff and equipment and the hospital's success in treating and curing patients. If a hospital meets those standards, it becomes accredited (gets a "seal of approval"). Reviews are done at least every three years. Most hospitals participate in this program.

You can order JCAHO's performance reports free of charge by calling (630) 792-5800. Or check the JCAHO's Web site at www.jcaho.org for a hospital's performance report or for its accreditation status.

How does the hospital compare with others in my area?

One important way to learn about hospital quality is to look at hospital report cards developed by states and consumer groups. A recent study about such reports found that besides helping consumers make informed choices, they also encourage hospitals to improve their quality of care. This is a very good reason to look for and use consumer information about hospitals. Also, ask your doctor what he or she thinks about the hospital.

Does the hospital have experience with my condition?

For example, "general" hospitals handle a wide range of routine conditions, such as hernias and pneumonia. "Specialty" hospitals have a lot of experience with certain conditions (such as cancer) or certain groups (such as children). You may be able to choose General Hospital "X" for gallbladder surgery, Specialty Hospital "Y" if you need care for a heart condition, and Specialty Hospital "Z" for your children.

You also may want to find out if the hospital has a special team of health professionals that works with people with your condition or treatment.

Has the hospital had success with my condition?

Research shows that hospitals that do many of the same types of procedures tend to have better success with them. In other words, "practice makes perfect." Ask your doctor or the hospital if there is information on:

  • How often the procedure is done there
  • How often the doctor does the procedure
  • The patient outcomes (how well the patients do)

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