Resources & Tools
What to Look for in a Hospital
Not all hospitals are the same. Research has shown that in some hospitals, patients get better medical care, experience fewer medical mistakes, and receive more attention for their needs.
But isn't the doctor in charge of my care, not the hospital?
It's true that the skill and experience of your doctor is very important in determining how well your medical problem is treated. However, the hospital also has responsibility for a variety of patient services and needs and can make a difference in how well you recover. Keep in mind that:
- Your doctor may see you once or twice a day; nurses, aides, and other hospital staff are caring for you throughout your stay.
- Your surgeon does not work alone but is assisted by many other professionals who have major roles in the success of the operation.
- Patient safety issues — like medication errors and surgical infections — can lead to major problems. These are not usually related to your doctor's skill but to other factors that hospitals manage.
- How you are treated as a person is a different issue than your medical treatment but can be just as important. It is helpful to know if the hospital has a good reputation for patient-centered care.
To choose a hospital, first find out from your doctor which hospitals are options, and then look at how their quality compares. Generally, for nonurgent care, you can examine your options in advance. You want a hospital that provides the best results for your particular medical problem, has an excellent patient safety record, and whose staff shows respect to patients and families.
Ask your doctor who is responsible for your hospital treatment. While your primary care physician may be the one who admits you to the hospital, a different doctor may provide your care there. If you're having surgery, you should speak to the surgeon. If you're having another type of treatment, speak to the doctor who will be in charge.
Although the place to start with these questions is your primary care doctor, you may need to talk to your hospital-based doctor, hospital administrator, or to other personnel who can provide the information you need. To get the best possible hospital care, you should ask:
- Does the hospital have a lot of practice doing this procedure? What are the top hospitals in your area for the type of treatment you need? (Hospitals that do certain procedures frequently are usually better than those who do them less often.)
- Does the hospital have a strong record of treating patients with your condition in a safe and effective way? See ratings on CalHospitalCompare.org. Consider the quality ratings for specific procedures and for patient safety in general. If the suggested hospital gets a low rating (below average or poor) on a particular measure, ask your doctor how that could affect you. Talk to a hospital administrator about what they will do to make sure you get good care.
- Is the hospital accredited by The Joint Commission? Most are but it's good to check. Search for it on the Quality Check website.
- What is the hospital's reputation for providing patient-centered care that is respectful and well coordinated?
- Is the hospital rated highly by respected watchdog groups? Check out The Leapfrog Group.
- If the hospital is a teaching hospital (with medical interns and residents), who will provide and direct your care? (Avoid teaching hospitals in July, when new residents and staff arrive and the medical care may not be as good as in other months.)
Check with your family and friends for their opinions and experiences. They can give you a perspective on the hospital that you won't get anywhere else. They can tell you about their experiences as a patient — such as the response, friendliness, and helpfulness of the staff — as well as the comfort, condition, and convenience of the hospital.
You may also know a doctor, nurse, medical technologist, or administrator who works at a hospital you're considering who may be able to give you an insider's perspective on the facility's pros and cons.
You may decide that to find a better hospital, you will need to change doctors. Don't hesitate to explore this option — the expertise of the hospital can be just as important as that of the doctor.