How to Use Online Ratings for a Hospital

Medically Reviewed by Sarah Goodell on September 13, 2022
5 min read

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.

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 Medicare, 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.

What you can find on CareCompare:

Medicare launched this website to combine all of the government health care compare websites into one place. On CareCompare you can find information on:

  • Hospitals
  • Doctors and clinicians
  • Nursing homes
  • Home health services
  • Hospice care
  • Inpatient rehabilitation services
  • Long-term care hospitals
  • Dialysis facilities

      For each category you can get:

  • A list of Medicare-certified providers in your area based on your city, state, or ZIP code
  • The provider on a map and the distance from your home
  • You can also see overall ratings and patient satisfaction ratings for hospitals, nursing homes, home health providers and dialysis facilities.

Additional details you can see for hospitals:

Rating format: Results for each hospital are compared to state and national benchmarks. They are listed as percentages or as bar graphs.

What the rating is based on: Ratings are based on data from government sources such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Joint Commission, and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys, administered by CMS.

What you can find: You can search by name, or search and compare hospitals based on:

  • Region
  • Health system
  • Size
  • Ownership
  • Type

Details you can see: State or national averages and results for overall recommended care, quality care, patient experience, emergency care, immunization rates, and several others.

When you click on a category, you can also get information on:

  • Selected hospitals and benchmarks
  • Trend data
  • Top performers
  • Map view

Rating format: You can look up and create reports that compare hospitals, hospital groups, or regions. You can also view featured reports, such as "Patient Experiences: State by State Variation."

What the rating is based on: Ratings are based on data from government sources such as CMS, the Institute of Medicine, The Joint Commission, HCAHPS surveys, and other trusted sources.

What you can find: A list of hospitals near the town or city you enter. You can sort by:

  • Location
  • Type of facility
  • Healthgrades Awards
  • Healthgrades Ratings for different procedures and conditions

Details you can see:

  • Directions and maps
  • How a hospital compares to national averages based on patient experience rankings
  • How well a hospital rates for patient safety for 14 potentially serious preventable complications
  • How well patients do at different points of a hospital stay for a specific condition, called quality of care ratings. For instance, there are ratings for care while a patient is in the hospital, 30 days after leaving the hospital, and 180 days after leaving the hospital.

Rating format: Hospitals are rated in three categories and each category is rated in a different way:

  • Patient Safety measures: Rated as worse than average, average, better than average
  • Outcome measures or Clinical Quality: Rated with 1 star = worse than expected, 3 stars = as expected, 5 stars = better than expected
  • Patient Experience measures: Satisfaction scores showing how hospitals rate compared to the national average

What the rating is based on:

  • Patient safety measures as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Outcome measures or clinical quality rating: Outcomes for 31 common procedures and conditions using Medicare discharge data
  • Patient experience measures: From Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys, administered by CMS

What you can find: Top Hospital ratings are given by year for Top Overall hospital, Rural hospital, Children’s hospital, and Teaching Hospital. You can also compare up to three hospitals at a time in a given area.

Details you can see:

  • Inpatient care
  • Medication safety
  • Maternity care
  • Infections
  • Inpatient surgery
  • Pediatric care

Rating format: Ratings are presented as a bar graph ranging from one to four bars.

What the ratings are based on: The Leap Frog Group is a non-profit funded by large employers and other purchasers with the goal of improving transparency and allowing both employers and consumers to make informed decisions. The focus is on patient safety. Publicly available data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and CDC as well as the Leap Frog Group’s own hospital survey, are used to develop the ratings.