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Your Health
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David Sayen: Choosing a Hospital That’s Best for You

Hospital Compare website offers information on how well various facilities handle certain kinds of patients

You may have read a restaurant guide or review before going out for a special dinner. And you’ve probably read a consumer review or two before spending thousands of dollars on a new car. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where you could get information on the quality of hospitals in your area?

David Sayen
David Sayen

Well, there is. It’s called Hospital Compare, and you can find it on the Medicare website.

Hospital Compare contains a wealth of information on how well hospitals perform certain surgeries and treat certain medical conditions. The data vary from hospital to hospital, because the reality is that some hospitals do a better job of caring for patients than others.

The idea behind Hospital Compare is that making quality-of-care information easily available to the public will motivate hospitals to improve their care. Medicare has similar “compare” websites for nursing homes and dialysis facilities, too.

You can search Hospital Compare by ZIP code, city or state. The data you’ll find are intended to provide a “snapshot” of the quality of care at about 4,700 hospitals throughout the United States. You don’t have to be a Medicare beneficiary to use Hospital Compare — it’s open to everyone and it’s free of charge.

If you’re having a medical emergency, go to the nearest hospital. Just get care as fast as you can. But if you’re planning to have surgery, or if you have a condition such as heart disease and you know you’ll need hospital care in the future, talk to your doctor about the local hospital that best meets your needs. Find out which hospitals your doctor works with, and which hospitals he or she thinks give the best care for your condition. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, ask if the hospitals participate in Medicare.

At that point, you may want to spend some time on Hospital Compare. It shows the rates at which hospitals provide recommended care for patients being treated for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia, and for patients having surgery.

It also displays information on hospital outcome measures. These include the rate at which Medicare patients who were treated for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia had to be readmitted to the hospital with complications, and 30-day risk adjusted death rates. (The 30-day period is used because this is the time period when deaths are most likely to be related to the care patients received in the hospital.) In addition, you can see results from patient satisfaction surveys, such as how well patients thought the hospital controlled their pain and how well doctors and nurses communicated with them.

Hospital Compare is no substitute for talking with your doctor and family members and friends who’ve been treated at a hospital you’re considering. But the website can give you a general idea of how well various hospitals handle certain kinds of patients.

We recently updated Hospital Compare with information on preventable errors that hospitals make. Eight types of errors are listed, including foreign objects being left in a patient after surgery; blood infections that result from catheters; bedsores; air and gas embolisms; preventable falls, burns, electric shock, or broken bones; and blood transfusions with incompatible blood. Such errors injure and kill thousands of people every year.

Medicare stopped reimbursing hospitals for these errors in 2008. But that’s not all we’re doing. Just last month we launched a new initiative called the Partnership for Patients, which we hope will save 60,000 lives by stopping millions of preventable injuries and complications in patient care over the next three years.

Already, more than 1,200 hospitals have pledged to support the Partnership for Patients. Ask your local hospital to sign up, if it hasn’t already.

— David Sayen is the regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and the Pacific Trust Territories for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. For answers to Medicare questions 24/7, call 800.MEDICARE.

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