Some hospitals really are better than others. Though no single source of comparative information on hospitals will answer every question you might have, the amount of information out there is growing, even though it's limited. Here are some entities with sites we recommend (including our own).
Links to more than 200 examples of report cards on hospitals, health plans, doctors, and other health providers. You can search by state, type of report, or sponsor (for instance, a government agency or health plan) and then click through to the outside link. Data might not be current, and not all of the sites linked to are free, but it is a useful starting place for your search. The compendium excludes reports that focus on a single institution's performance or that are not directly related to quality.
Free hospital comparisons based on surveys of patient experience with key aspects of care, such as the quality of communication with doctors and nurses, adequacy of pain control, cleanliness of rooms, and effective discharge planning. Comparisons include the volume of certain procedures, death and readmission rates, and how often hospitals provide care known to get good results, such as the proper use of antibiotics to prevent surgical infections and the use of beta-blockers to prevent repeat heart attacks. (Some hospitals have declined to make that information public.) Military and Veterans Health Administration facilities are not included.
Free performance data on hospitals nationwide from a private foundation. Users can search for hospitals by state, county, ownership, size, or hospital type. The site incorporates Medicare's patient survey and hospital quality measures. It also provides an "overall quality measure." Users can compare hospital quality scores against national and state benchmarks.
Our health-care Web site, which requires a subscription, recently added Patient Ratings, which compare hospitals based on overall satisfaction as well as specific features from the Medicare surveys mentioned above. Subscribers can also learn whether hospitals in their area provide conservative or aggressive care to people with long-term, serious illnesses. Nonsubscribers can look up basic information on hospitals, such as location and size. For a limited time, the site is offering a 30-day free trial at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org/freetrial. To sign up, you must provide a credit-card number. You will receive an e-mail just before the trial period expires that will enable you to opt out of a subscription if you choose.
Free site of a nonprofit group that inspects and accredits most U.S. hospitals. It allows you to search for selected information from the reports on the commission's inspection visits, which occur at least every three years. You can also see how a hospital compares with others.
Free ratings from a nonprofit employer-advocacy group on overall patient safety and the safety of selected procedures, based on a voluntary annual survey of 1,276 general acute-care hospitals representing 53 percent of the hospital beds in 37 major U.S. metropolitan areas. Users can compare safety practices applicable to most hospitalized patients, such as the use of computerized systems to order medications. The site also allows searches for safety practices associated with specific high-risk procedures, including heart bypass surgery, angioplasty, aortic valve replacement, pancreatic and esophageal resection, weight-loss surgery, and high-risk deliveries.
Free online rankings of medical centers in 16 specialties, based on criteria including reputation among physicians, and care-related factors such as technology, patient volume, nurse staffing, and mortality rates. The site also ranks children's hospitals in 10 specialties and includes more-limited information on 1,500 other hospitals. Information on the Web site was current at press time.