Other Information You Can Gather On Your Own
Last updated July 2016
In addition to the data we included in our evaluations of hospitals, there is additional information you can gather on your own.
The Federal Government’s Hospital Compare Website
At hospitalcompare.hhs.gov you can find various quality measures. These measures continue to evolve.
At this website, you can find more detailed information of the kind described above on the extent to which hospitals follow “best treatment” guidelines.
In addition, Hospital Compare reports for a small number of case types whether hospitals’ patients experience serious complications or deaths at statistically higher or lower rates than would be expected given their mix of patients and case types.
The website also has information on hospital-acquired infections and other quality measures.
The Hospitals’ Doctors
If you have a strong relationship with a physician who would care for you during a hospital stay, you will want to be wary of making a hospital selection that will force you to give up, or strain, that relationship. This is especially true if your case is one—knee ligament surgery, for instance—in which there is low risk of hospital-caused death or serious complications, but there are substantial surgeon-to-surgeon differences in outcomes in terms of your ability to function as you would like.
Regardless of whether you currently have a strong relationship with a physician, one way to judge hospitals is by checking whether they have high-quality physicians affiliated with them. The best physicians are not likely to send their patients to low-quality hospitals. If there are physicians you know to be excellent, find out which hospitals they use. You can find names of top-quality doctors in our Doctors section.
You might want to consider whether a hospital has special services, programs, and strengths of kinds that are not addressed on our ratings tables. For example, if you are likely to need rehabilitation services, you might want a hospital that has strong capabilities in that field. You can ask your physician if the physician knows which hospitals have such capabilities.
You can learn a lot of important information about hospitals by making your own visits or talking with other consumers who have been patients in, or regularly visited, available facilities. The most meaningful way to observe a facility is by visiting friends or loved ones (or being a patient, of course), but you can also call the administrator’s office at any hospital you are considering and arrange a tour. There’s much to look for—
- Check the rooms. Are they big enough? How noisy are they? Is there privacy for patient beds and in bathrooms—from the hall and from the other patient in semi-private rooms? Are private rooms available and at what cost? Are the rooms clean and attractive? Are there windows with a pleasant view, and can they be opened for fresh air? Is there good lighting? Is there an easily accessible call button at bedside and in the bathroom? Are TVs placed where they can be easily viewed? Can headphones be arranged so that you and your roommate, if you have one, can avoid disturbing one another? Can room temperatures be controlled on a room-by-room basis?
- Check the halls. Are they clean? Are they free of foul smells? Are they free of heavy smells of deodorizers that might be masking cleanliness problems?
- Check the other patient areas. Are there pleasant sitting areas and places where patients can walk? Can patients walk or sit outside in a safe and convenient place on pleasant days? Is there a cafeteria, newsstand, lobby, or other facilities that will make the hospital pleasant for visitors?
- Ask for a list of hospital policies. Are the visiting hours reasonable? What are the hours for receiving phone calls? Can children visit? How much flexibility is there on mealtimes and bedtimes? Can arrangements be made for a relative or friend to sleep-in near the patient? In general, are policies reasonable?
- Check the staff. Do nurses and other staff members seem responsive to patient needs? Do they respond promptly when called? Do they take the time to listen and answer questions? Are they gentle? Are they respectful? Do they seem competent?
- Check the food. Does it seem fresh and attractive? Are fresh fruits served, and are fresh vegetables not overcooked? Does hot food arrive hot and cold food cold? Do patients who are not on physician-ordered diets have any choice of meals? Can arrangements be made for vegetarian, kosher, or other special diets?
- Check the social work services. What are the staff’s capabilities for arranging needed services after discharge? Do they follow through?
It is very important that family and friends can conveniently visit you. Visitors can bolster your morale and thus speed your recovery. The presence of visitors puts the hospital staff on notice that someone cares about you; that might also make the hospital staff more attentive. In addition, having family or friends to observe the care you are getting is critical. They can help you look out for medication errors, gaps in staff follow-up, inattention to your pain, hospital routines like middle of the night wakeups that are unnecessarily disruptive, and many other care and service problems. And they can speak up on your behalf.
Talking with Your Doctor
The information we report in this article and you gather on your own will help you select a hospital. We strongly recommend that you discuss the data with a physician or physicians you trust. This discussion should be a two-way street; your opinions, information, and preferences matter. If your physician recommends a facility that you would not have chosen, ask why. Keep in mind that physicians may have reasons for hospital choice that are unrelated to your well-being. Your doctor might find it more convenient to have all his or her patients in the same facility. Within a managed care plan, there may be financial penalties if the doctor doesn’t use specific hospitals. You at least deserve to have an explanation of the reasons your doctor thinks a specific hospital is best for you. A full discussion with your doctor, in the context of the information you have gathered, will give you a sound basis for making a hospital choice that will serve you well.