What do you do when you have just received a serious medial diagnosis and have to decide which hospital to use? In most cases, you'll depend solely on your doctor's recommendation, but you want to be sure you'll get the best care. If you have a few options or you still need to find a specialist, how do you go about finding the right specialist and hospital near you?
Luckily, a number of websites can help you research both the hospitals and specialties at which they excel. Here are five of the top websites for hospital and other health care reviews:
My favorite is the one run by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, which provides the most comprehensive listing of health care organizations available today. The Joint Commission goes in to health care organizations periodically to check the quality at each hospital it certifies. Its website now lists both Joint Commission-accredited and certified health organizations, as well as health care organizations not accredited or certified by the Joint Commission.
A health care organization must voluntarily seek accreditation or certification from the Joint Commission. If it has gotten that accreditation or certification, you know the organization has demonstrated a strong commitment to giving safe, high quality health care and to continually working to improve that care.
You can search for health care organizations in your state by name of organization, by zip code or by city/state. Then you'll be able to search by type of service or type of provider you need.
Another great website you can use for hospital research is Hospital Compare, run by the Department of Health and Human Services. You can use this tool to find information about hospitals' care by the specialty you need, either based on medical conditions or surgical procedures. The website includes results from surveys of patients who answered questions about the quality of care they received during a recent hospital stay.
Hospital Compare was created through the efforts of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Health and Human Services, and other members of the Hospital Quality Alliance: Improving Care Through Information (HQA). You'll only find information from hospitals that have agreed to submit quality information for Hospital Compare to make public. So if a local hospital is not there, it either means it did not submit the information or did not agree to make the information public.
You've probably used Consumer Reports for purchases of cars, electronics and other consumer items, but you may not be aware that it has used its excellent data collection skills to rate hospitals and doctors. The ratings are based on survey responses from millions of patients. They answered questions about how well doctors communicate, how attentive the hospital staff is, how well pain was controlled, how often help was received when needed, the cleanliness and quietness of the rooms, information provided about new medications, and information provided after discharge. Patients were also questioned on whether they would recommend the hospital to family and friends and asked to rate their overall experience.
Consumer Reports also include ratings based on how reliably a hospital performs recommended steps before and after surgery to prevent infections, and how often patients acquired bloodstream infections while in an intensive-care unit. You'll also find ratings for how aggressively or conservatively the hospital treats serious chronic medical conditions.
HealthGrades rates both doctors and hospitals. In fact you'll be able to search information on 750,000 doctors, 5,000 hospitals and 16,000 nursing homes. You can search by state/city and then by specialty. In the hospital rating area, you can even find ratings regarding survival in a particular hospital and survival six months after a hospital stay. You can also search for hospitals by the awards they received.
Information for these ratings is collected from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and from the Leapfrog Group, which seeks to reduce preventable medical mistakes and improve the quality and affordability of health care. You can also search for more details at the Leapfrog website for hospital ratings based on overall patient safety and safety of selected procedures.
If you want to find out what patients say about a hospital, you may want to check out Healthcare Reviews. This is not a professional certification or even carefully-collected data based on surveys -- they're anonymous postings from patients about their experience at certain hospitals. You'll only find your local hospital reviewed if someone took the time to post it.
After you've done your homework online, take it to your doctor and discuss your findings. He or she can help you make the best decision for your health. Picking the right institution can make a big difference in the type of care you'll receive and your chances for successful treatment.
Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Social Security and Medicare and The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Medicare Part D.
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