1. Isn't heart surgery always an emergency? Do I even have time to research hospitals?
If you are having a heart attack, emergency bypass surgery is sometimes necessary. But in most cases heart disease can be stabilized with drugs or simpler procedures, giving you, or a friend or family member, time. Ask your doctor how serious your condition is and how soon you’ll need surgery. Valve disease is serious but rarely an emergency, so you will almost always have time.
2. What should I do if my hospital isn’t rated?
There’s a good chance of that happening, because many hospitals did not share data with us. But almost every hospital reports to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, even if the information is not public. Some that do report to the STS give similar data to state registries. So ask your surgeon about the hospital’s survival and complication rates. If he or she can’t—or won’t—share it, consider looking elsewhere.
3. What should I do if no top hospitals are in my community?
First, don’t panic. A hospital that gets an average rating still provides good care. If all hospitals in your area get low scores or won’t share their data, you could travel elsewhere. But check with your insurance to make sure the procedure will be covered at the out-of-town hospital. And realize that you might not have as much support from family and friends. If you choose a lower-rated hospital, discuss your concerns about its score with your surgeon. That can be reassuring and help you prepare for your stay.
4. Do I need to go to a famous hospital or one in a large city to get good care?
No. We found top hospitals in bypass and valve surgery in out-of-the-way places. And high-scoring hospitals in one or the other procedure are in all regions of the country.
5. What if my insurer won’t cover the hospital I want?
If you have original Medicare, you should have no problem, because almost all hospitals accept it. With managed care, including Medicare Advantage, you must use providers in the plan’s network or you’re likely to pay all or most of the costs out of your own pocket. If the surgery can be postponed for several months, you could consider switching plans for 2015. That may not be possible if you’re covered through a job, but if you have Medicare Advantage or a plan you bought through a state marketplace, you can switch plans during the annual fall open enrollment period.
6. What if I also want information about my heart surgeon?
That can be difficult to find. We have Ratings for heart surgery groups but not individual doctors. A few states maintain registries for surgeons. (Contact your state’s department of health.) But you probably will need to ask your surgeon for the information you want. If he or she won’t tell you, consider going elsewhere.