Have you ever read a restaurant guide before picking a place for a special dinner? Or a consumer-advice magazine before buying a new car?
Wouldn't it be great if there was a similar guide for looking up the quality of care at hospitals in your area?
Well, there is. It's called Hospital Compare and you can find it on the Medicare website, at www.medicare.gov.
Hospital Compare contains a wealth of information on how well hospitals perform certain surgeries and treat certain medical conditions. The data varies from hospital to hospital since 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, home health agencies, and dialysis facilities.
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 more than 4,000 Medicare-certified 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. But if you have time to plan a surgery, or if you have a condition like 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.
Hospital Compare 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 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.)
With Hospital Compare you can see how often a hospital's patients get certain serious conditions that could have been prevented if the hospital followed procedures based on best practices and scientific evidence. The conditions include pressure sores, post-operative blood clots, post-surgical falls, accidental cuts and tears, and post-surgical blood infections. Such problems kill and injure thousands of people every year.
In addition, you'll find 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.
[David Sayen is Medicare's regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).]