Dear Savvy Senior: I need to get a hip replacement, and want to find a good, safe hospital to have it done in. What resources can you recommend for evaluating hospitals? I don’t currently have a doctor. — Shopping Around
Dear Shopping: Most people spend more time shopping for a kitchen appliance or flat-screen TV than choosing a hospital. But selecting the right one can be as important as the doctor you choose. Here are some tips and resources to help you research the hospitals in your area.
While you might not always have the opportunity to choose your hospital, especially in the case of an emergency, having a planned procedure can offer you a variety of choices.
When shopping for a hospital, the most important criterion is to choose one that has a strong department in treating your area of need. A facility that excels in coronary bypass surgery, for example, may not be the best choice for a hip replacement. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they’re treated in hospitals that have extensive experience with their specific condition.
In order to choose a hospital that’s best for you, it is important to discuss your concerns and alternatives with the doctor who is treating you. Some doctors may be affiliated with several hospitals from which you can choose. Or, if you’ve yet to select a doctor, finding a top hospital that has expertise with your condition can help you determine which physician to actually choose.
Another important reason to do some research is the all too frequent occurrence of hospital infections, which kill around 75,000 people in the U.S. each year. So, checking your hospital’s infection rates and cleanliness procedures is also a smart move.
Free researching tools
There are a number of free online resources that can help you evaluate and compare hospitals in your area, including:
>> Medicare’s Hospital Compare (medicare.gov/hospitalcompare): Operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this tool has data on more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals.
>> Why Not the Best (whynotthebest.org): Created by the Commonwealth Fund, this is a private foundation that provides performance data on all U.S. hospitals.
>> The Leapfrog Group (leapfroggroup.org): This national, not-for-profit organization grades more than 2,000 U.S. hospitals on quality and safety.
These websites use publicly available data to rate hospitals on various measures of performance like death rates from serious conditions such as heart failure and pneumonia, frequency of hospital-acquired infections, patient satisfaction and more.
On these websites, you plug in your location to find hospitals in your area. You can then check to see how well or poorly each hospital manages patients in various conditions.
U.S. News & World Report is an online publication that publishes a hospital ranking in 17 medical specialties like cancer, orthopedics and urology, and rates common procedures and conditions, such as heart bypass surgery, hip and knee replacement and COPD. It also ranks hospitals regionally within states and major metro areas.
And Healthgrades, which is a private for-profit organization, provides free hospital ratings on patient safety and medical procedures, and scores hospitals using a five-star scale. It also provides comprehensive information on most U.S. doctors, including their education and training, hospital affiliations, board certification, awards and recognitions, professional misconduct, disciplinary action and malpractice records, office locations and insurance plans.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.