Did you know that picking the “wrong” hospital can negatively impact your health and even increase your risk of death? Because there is a wide variation in quality of care and safety, it really does matter which hospital you use.
One study analyzed over 20 measures of medical outcomes for a variety of health conditions in 22 million hospital admissions. The researchers adjusted the results for factors such as health, age and income to help them identify which hospitals had the best outcomes. (Read a summary of the study in The NY Times.)
How big is the impact of hospital choice?
The study found you could be 3 times more likely to die, and 13 times more likely to have a complication, if you pick the “wrong” hospital.
What factors impact patient outcomes?
Unsurprisingly, this study found that not all hospitals provide the same level of care. Moreover, many factors impact patient outcomes, including the:
- Experience and training of doctors.
- Volume of cases for a particular condition.
- Culture of the hospital.
- Modernity of the machinery for testing and treating patients.
- Nurse staffing levels.
Importantly, a hospital that provides top-notch care for one type of illness might have poor outcomes for other ailments.
What can you do?
Fortunately, you can research doctors and hospitals to get an idea on their quality of care.
Research hospital options.
Having information on outcomes and deaths can help you make a decision about which hospital to use. However, this information for your particular medical condition can be hard, if not impossible, to get.
Start by evaluating potential hospitals on the sites below. However, realize the information found on these sites does not provide detailed information on outcomes for particular health conditions.
Additionally, realize there is no standard methodology used by hospital ratings sites, so use the information with caution. Read the NEJM Catalyst article on “rating the raters” for more information.
Although these ratings systems are not perfect, you can get an overall sense of a hospital’s record on safety related issues:
- U.S. News and World Report – find information on hospitals for 25 adult specialties/conditions and 10 pediatric specialties. See scores for these specialties in the following categories: national ranking, professional recognition, level of staffing, survival rates, patient experience, and patient volume.
- The Leapfrog Group – search by geographic area, or name, to see quality data for information on medication safety, infections and injuries, and inpatient care management, and more.
- Medicare’s Hospital Compare – search by geographic area, or name, to see information on readmission and death rates for 5 health conditions and 2 surgical practices, complication rates, patient experience surveys, and more.
For more information, read How to Choose a Hospital.
Research potential doctors.
In addition to evaluating potential hospitals, it’s a good idea to evaluate potential doctors. Firstly, ask potential doctors specific questions about their training. Why? Because it’s important to know their level of experience for your medical condition. Ask how many cases similar to yours each doctors has treated. And ask about the outcomes for their patients.
Additionally, try to get second, even third opinions, and ask each doctor these same questions. Although it can be intimidating to ask doctors questions about their experience and abilities, your life may depend on it.
No matter where you receive care, the risk of harm, ranging from errors to infections, is real. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risks and help you get the best care possible. For tips, read these blogs:
- How to Protect Yourself from Hospital Infections.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- Why is Sepsis so Dangerous?
- How do you Get C. Diff Infections?
- The Dangers of Missed Bedside Alarms.
- The Benefits of Participating in Hospital Rounds.
- Medication Errors in Hospitals – How Can You Protect Yourself?
- Tips for Hospital Discharges.
- What’s Your Hospital’s Safety Record? Is Your Hospital Safe?
NOTE: I updated this post on 8-22-21.