America's Top Hospitals

Best Hospitals' Survival Rates 12-20% Higher, Study Says

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 24, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Life-And-Death Implications

Jan. 24, 2005 -- Of all the hospitals in America, which ones are best? According to a new study, 229 hospitals stand out, earning a "Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence."

The awards come from HealthGrades, an independent organization focused on health care quality. For the third straight year, HealthGrades has identified the top five percent of U.S. hospitals for clinical quality.

For the complete list, click here.

Nearly 5,000 hospitals nationwide were considered. The rankings are based on death and complication rates of Medicare patients hospitalized from 2001-2003 for 28 common procedures and diagnoses including heart attack, stroke, heart bypass, pneumonia, hip replacement, gastrointestinal problems, and back and neck surgery.

For four of the most common conditions and treatments -- heart attack, stroke, community acquired pneumonia, and heart bypass surgery -- survival rates were 12-20% better at the distinguished hospitals than at an average American hospital.

Here's how those survival rates compared:


  • Stroke: 15.4% better at awarded hospitals
  • Community-acquired pneumonia: 19.55% better at awarded hospitals
  • Coronary (heart) bypass surgery: 15.3% better at awarded hospitals
  • Heart attack: 12.6% better at awarded hospitals


The heart attack rate was based on hospitals using angioplasty and stent treatments to reopen blood vessels.

Life-And-Death Implications

To put those percentages in real-world terms, imagine an average-sized crowd at an NFL football game -- nearly 53,000 people. That's how many lives could have been saved if all Medicare patients hospitalized for those four problems had gone to top-ranked hospitals, says HealthGrades.

Distinguished hospitals treated more Medicare patients than average hospitals. Their Medicare patients were often in worse condition than those at average hospitals. The awards included 126 teaching hospitals, which have at least one resident or were connected to an approved medical teaching program for at least one year of the study.

Best, Worst Regions

Geography mattered. Some regions had an abundance of awarded hospitals, while some states had none.

The Great Lakes region had the highest concentration of top-ranked hospitals, based on the 2000 U.S. census. There was one distinguished hospital for every 773,181 residents in that region, which included Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The Sunbelt was a close second. Like the Great Lakes area, it had 72 distinguished hospitals, but the Sunbelt's larger population meant more patients per hospital. The Sunbelt states were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Third place went to the Northeast, with 36 distinguished hospitals. The Northeast included Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

The Great Plains region had 30 awarded hospitals. Those states were Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.

The West Coast had the lowest concentration of top-ranked hospitals. In those states -- Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington -- there was one awarded hospital per almost 3 million people.

Florida and the Upper Great Lakes had the highest per-capita number of distinguished hospitals. Washington, Georgia, and Massachusetts had the lowest per-capita figures.

States Without Top-Ranked Hospitals

The 16 states without top-ranked hospitals were:

New Hampshire
New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina

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SOURCES: HealthGrades, "The Third Annual HealthGrades Hospital Quality and Clinical Excellence Study," Jan. 24, 2005. News release, HealthGrades.

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