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    How to Use Online Ratings for a Hospital

    Planning on having surgery soon? Or cancer treatment? Just want to know where to get help in case your family has an emergency? In any case, you want to know which hospital is best and nearest to you. Many sites now rate hospitals. Knowing how they're set up and understanding what you can rely on them for -- and not -- is key to using them successfully.

    What to Know About Ratings Sites

    These web sites aren't perfect. But they can help you make informed choices. One thing to know is that if you look at more than one hospital rating site, you may not be comparing apples to apples.

    Hospital ranking web sites may use different types of data in their rankings.

    • Patient Experience Measures are patients' opinions about the care they received.
    • Process Measures give information about how many patients get the recommended care for their condition.
    • Outcomes Measures show how well patients do after they receive treatment.
    • Patient Safety Measures show how often patients suffer from hospital-acquired infections, for example.
    • Cost Measures are the cost of care for specific services.

    Ranking sites may also use different sources of data. In general, the government sources, such as CDC and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), are the most rigorous and reliable sources, and information from users on a web site is the least reliable.

    Be sure to look at rankings for the procedure or condition you need care for along with the hospital's overall quality. Don't just look at patient experience ratings. These won't tell you the hospital's rating for safe and effective treatment.

    Use the information to help you decide. But don't rely on it entirely. Talk with your doctors about your treatment plan and the results you can expect. Also find out which hospitals are covered by your insurance plan , or you may end up paying a lot more for your care. If you have questions, ask your health care providers. They can explain what the data mean.

    Medicare.gov: Hospital Compare

    What you can find:

    • A list of Medicare-certified hospitals in your area based on your city, state, or ZIP code
    • The hospital on a map and the distance from your home
    • The type of hospital it is
    • Whether it has emergency services

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