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    Before you make a big purchase, you probably do a lot of research. Is it the best product out there? How are the customer reviews? Picking the right hospital shouldn't be any different.

    When you have an emergency, of course, it's a no-brainer -- you head to the nearest one. But for surgery that you schedule in advance, you can do your homework and handpick a place that's best for you.

    "As consumers, we have to take in all the different sources," says Maulik S. Joshi, DrPH, associate executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. "Hospitals are becoming more and more transparent about their performance." So there's plenty of information out there to help you make the right choice.

    Internet Ratings

    Start by looking online, where there are a slew of web sites that measure and grade how well a hospital's doing. You'll find ones run by government agencies and private companies.

    Plug in your zip code or a hospital name, and you instantly get detailed information. For instance, you'll learn things like:

    Patient satisfaction.  Are doctors good at managing pain? Do they explain things well?

    Treatment. How often and quickly does the hospital take care of problems like heart attacks and blood clots?

    Health complications. How often do patients get ones that could have been prevented?

    Readmission rates. It's not an exact measure, but it can help you get a sense of how well patients are treated. For instance, if a lot of people need to go back to the hospital, it could be a sign that they're getting infections.

    Special awards. It shows the hospital has high-quality care that's recognized by patients and health professionals.

    Many of these things are helpful to look at no matter what type of surgery you're having. But don't forget to check how a hospital ranks on the specific type of operation you need, says Ahmed Elsayyad, chief executive officer of Elsayyad Medical Group, LLC, a health-care consulting group. "If you're planning to get knee surgery, look at the metrics under the hip/knee surgery tab."

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