Choosing A Hospital: Does It Matter?

A smiling doctor standing outside of a hospital When you are faced with needing to go to a hospital, you often have a choice in the matter. But just how do you choose? Are some hospitals better than others? What are the criteria that make one hospital better than the next? What makes one surgeon more trustworthy than another? Is the quality of care really better from one facility to the next?

Insurance Woes

Sometimes, your insurance company can actually dictate what hospital you’re allowed to go to, and when this occurs, there is often not much choice in the matter on the part of the consumer. Through economic alliances, negotiated reimbursement rates and other criteria, insurance companies may funnel you to particular hospitals for specific reasons or specific conditions and treatments, and if you seek care at a hospital not authorized by your plan, you may have a tough fight ahead of you when it comes to getting your bills covered. That said, if you’re out of town, out of state, or even out of the country, make sure you know the procedure for seeking emergency medical care at out-of-network facilities.

Ratings Matter

If you have time to do research, there are several key things to look for when examining hospitals:

• Check to see if the hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), and ask to see a copy of the latest survey results.

• See if the hospital has been rated by the state where you live (try calling the healthcare commission, Office of Consumer Affairs, or similar agency within your state government).

• Find out if any consumer groups have rated or recommended this facility.

• Check and other related websites.

• Ask friends, family, colleagues and your health providers about their personal experiences with this facility.

Other Things To Consider

If you are preparing for elective surgery, a birth, or another procedure or treatment and have time to do so, here are other suggestions to consider:

• Does the facility treat the particular condition that you require treatment for?

• What is their track record of success for treating this condition? How often do they do this procedure? What is their record regarding patient outcomes and post-operative infections?

• Does your doctor have “privileges” at this facility so that he or she can admit you and follow your progress?

• Does the facility have a quality improvement department? Are results of patient satisfaction surveys readily available to the public?

• Can the hospital cater to any specific needs you may have, such as a special diet, or chemical or fragrance sensitivity?

Magnet Status

When it comes to successful hospitals, nursing care is frequently key to low infection rates and patient satisfaction. Doctors may perform surgeries or order medications, but nurses use their own brand of nursing science and procedures to assure high quality care, and magnet status is one way that hospitals demonstrate their dedication to such quality.

The Magnet Hospital Recognition Program was established by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), an affiliate of the American Nurses Association. Facilities actually apply for Magnet status, and according to the website of the ANCC, the annual U.S. News and World Report showcase of  “America’s best hospitals” uses Magnet status as one hallmark of nursing and healthcare delivery excellence (see

Trust Your Intuition

Above all else, in the end you need to trust your intuition when it comes to choosing a hospital or other healthcare facility for your needs. Economics, insurance, distance, convenience, and many other factors play a role in what facility feels right, but you also need to trust yourself to choose the facility that’s right for you. Friends, colleagues, family members and trusted healthcare providers can also assist you, as well as many of the institutions and consumer groups mentioned above. Seeking healthcare can be scary, but having choices can make the experience more palatable, especially if you feel empowered to choose wisely.