Every hospital has to meet certain standards of quality and safety to be accredited, but that doesn’t mean patients can forgo doing their research when they know they will be needing health care.
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Experts say the level of care and experience of the doctors varies among hospitals, so patients expecting a hospital stay should find the best institution to meet their needs.
“Hospitals vary in the specialties they provide as well as in the folks they recruit to their staff. Patients are right to look around at the different hospitals that are available to them,” says Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association. “Patients have to make sure they are going to places that best suits them and their needs.”
Certain hospitals have a greater level of expertise with certain illnesses and treatments which can bring about better care and a speedier recovery.
Often doctors will dictate a hospital location, but patients that have a choice or want to work with a specific physician should look for specific criteria when evaluating their options.
“Patients want to know what other patients thought about the hospital, they want to know the skills of the clinicians and the general provision of care, particularly when someone is going in for a major surgery,” says Foster.
Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals.com, says there are a host of websites that contain reviews and information on hospitals throughout the country. Many offer hospital ratings based on things like medicine compliance and safety and complication rates, which all hospitals that are paid by Medicare are required to report.
“The whole rating system has been boiled down to a fairly simple Michelin-type star level,” he says. When evaluating all the options, note that some smaller hospitals that don’t get paid by Medicare aren’t required to report that data.
Medicare’s website www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html enables patients to compare hospitals based on specific criteria. For instance, it shows information on safety measures, readmission rates, mortality rates and information from patient surveys. “The patient surveys don’t simply ask thumbs up or thumbs down,” says Foster. “It asks the important questions: did you understand what the doctors and nurses were telling you, did you perceive the hospital as safe and did you understand the medication usage once you left the hospital?”
In addition to third-party websites, hospitals provide information and data on their own websites.
When it comes to choosing an emergency room, Rothschild suggests evaluating the average wait time and any areas of expertise, pointing out patients can waste a lot of time going to an ER that treats trauma cases if they have a bad case of the flu.
Since much of the decision hospital choice rests on the doctor, Rothschild says it’s important that patients choose doctors that are affiliated with the hospitals they wish to attend. Those requiring a major surgery or treatment process want a doctor who has ties with a top-notch hospital
“The doctor you pick holds in many cases your life in his or her hands,” says Rothschild. “Take at least as much care picking your doctor as buying a car.”