How we rate health-care products and services

Last updated: December 2014

Consumer Reports rates many different kinds of health care products and services, including:

  • Exercise equipment, such as ellipticals, treadmills, pedometers, and home gyms.
  • Home medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors, blood glucose meters, and fever thermometers.
  • Personal-care items, such as sunscreens, moisturizers, electric shavers, electric toothbrushes, and bathroom scales.
  • Drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medication.
  • Health insurance plans, including HMOs, PPOs, and Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Hospitals, on measures such as safety, infection rates, and patient satisfaction.
  • Heart-surgery groups, based on success and complication rates for heart-bypass surgery.
  • Medical tests and treatments, such as screening tests for heart disease.


In some cases, such as in our Ratings of exercise equipment and home medical devices, most of our testing is done at our Yonkers facility, with our in-house staff of exercise and medical experts, engineers, and technicians.

In other cases, such as for drugs, health insurance, hospitals, and doctors, our Ratings are based mostly on data that we get from external sources, such as federal and state databases or partner organizations, as well as from our own surveys, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. That data is then analyzed by our in-house physicians and health statisticians and presented by our health writers and editors.

Exercise equipment and personal-care devices

Photo: Michael Smith

We test models that represent the spectrum of products in a given market. Our market analysts look for products with new features and technological advances and a wide range of prices. Staff shoppers then buy the products at retail outlets or online, without revealing that the purchases are for Consumer Reports. The products are then tested by experienced engineers and technicians who put the products through a battery of tests using scientific measurements, along with other tests that replicate the user experience.

We test products against existing industry or government standards and develop our own benchmarks when we encounter new technologies or issues that require further testing. We combine the results of all of those tests to arrive at individual scores for key attributes. Those scores, in turn, contribute to an overall score that enables us to rank products by performance.

Prescription drugs

Our Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug reports provide information that will help you talk with your doctor about prescription medicines, particularly which ones best meet your medical needs and give you the best value for your health care dollar. For example, heavily advertised drugs are often the most expensive ones but aren't necessarily the best first choice for you.

Our reports cut through the noise of drug promotions and use unbiased evaluations of the evidence to make recommendations for some of the most common conditions. The findings in each report combine an expert medical review of the scientific evidence on prescription drugs with their prices. The analysis compares and contrasts the effectiveness, safety, and price of prescription drugs by category—that is, drugs in the same class that are used to treat a specific condition or illness such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heartburn, or depression. Some of the information in our reports come from our partner, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Our reports can be downloaded to print out and discuss with your doctor. Read more about our CR Best Buy Drug reports.

Health insurance

The rankings of health insurance plans are published in conjunction with the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that provided the data and rankings. NCQA ranks three basic types of health insurance plans: health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and point of service (POS) plans. In addition, NCQA ranks health plans that serve three populations: people who get health insurance through their employer or buy it on their own in the private-sector marketplace, people with Medicare, and people with Medicaid. Read more about how we rate health insurance plans.


Our hospital Ratings come from scientifically based data on patient experience and health care outcomes gathered from public sources. The patient-experience information comes from a survey of millions of hospital patients conducted by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Information on infections and readmissions data come from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Our hospital safety score combines those and other measures into a composite that provides a reflection of a hospital's overall safety. Read more about how we rate hospitals.

Heart surgery groups

Ratings of surgical groups that perform coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery are based on data from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, a not-for-profit organization that represents about 5,400 heart surgeons. The STS database includes more than 4 million surgical records and represents more than 90 percent of adult cardiac surgery groups in the U.S. Surgeons add new data to the registry four times a year, providing an up-to-date picture of cardiac surgical practice. Read more about how we rate heart surgery groups.

Medical tests and procedures

Our Ratings have focused so far on tests for heart disease. We focused on their effectiveness, benefits, and value for people without symptoms of the disease. The Ratings are based on research by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group that develops recommendations on preventive health care, combined with our additional analysis. Read more about our Ratings of heart tests.

Our partners

Some of our drug information comes from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), a 30,000-member national professional association comprising pharmacists who work with doctors and other health-care professionals in hospitals, ambulatory-care clinics, and long-term-care and home-care facilities. ASHP's mission is to support pharmacists' efforts to help people use medications safely and effectively. ASHP publishes the American Hospital Formulary Service (AHFS). The AHFS is a professional drug information source widely trusted for its established record in refuting unfounded efficacy claims, its rigorous science-based editorial process, and its independence from the influence of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists represents that the information provided here is formulated with a reasonable standard of care, and in conformity with professional standards in the field. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, including, but not limited to, any implied warranty of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose, with respect to such information, and specifically disclaims all such warranties and representations. Users are advised that decisions regarding drug therapy are complex medical decisions requiring the independent, informed decision of an appropriate health care professional, and the information is provided for informational purposes only. The entire monograph for a drug should be reviewed for a thorough understanding of the drug's actions, uses, and side effects. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists does not endorse or recommend the use of any drug. The information is not a substitute for medical care.

Visit the ASHP website.

The ratings of surgical groups that perform coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) that appear on ConsumerReports.org are based on data from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS). It's a not-for-profit organization that represents about 5,400 surgeons worldwide who operate on the chest (or thorax), including the heart, lungs, and esophagus. STS has maintained the Adult Cardiac Surgery Database since 1989. It's now the largest such registry in the world, including more than 4 million surgical records and representing more than 90 percent of adult cardiac surgery groups in the U.S. Surgeons add new data to the registry four times a year, providing an up-to-date picture of cardiac surgical practice. Much of the information is collected at the time of care, making it more valuable than data collected for administrative or insurance reasons or doctor ratings based on professional reputation.

STS contracts with an independent organization, the Duke Clinical Research Institute, to analyze the data and prepare reports for participating surgical groups, comparing their performance with national benchmarks for surgical quality. The STS and surgeons from each group have agreed to share some data on heart bypass surgery with Consumer Reports as part of their ongoing commitment to improving care and helping patients make informed decisions.

Visit The Society of Thoracic Surgeons website.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance is a nonprofit quality oversight and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to improve lives by bringing measurement, transparency, and accountability to health care. The NCQA evaluates, accredits, and certifies health care organizations and medical professionals, including insurance plans and physicians. Forty state governments, many Fortune 500 companies, and the Medicare program rely on the NCQA as the "gold standard" of health care quality monitoring and review. Two out of five Americans—120 million people—receive care from health plans and provider organizations that the NCQA evaluates and/or accredits.

Some information and data on health plans in the NCQA rankings comes from the 2010 Directory of Health Plans published by Atlantic Information Services, including plan names, service areas by state, product types, URLs and websites, and total national enrollments for the five largest health plans that did not submit data to the NCQA by product (for example, HMO, POS, PPO, Medicaid, and Medicare). AIS makes no warranties or representations as to the validity or accuracy of the data.

Visit the NCQA website.


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