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The Huge Difference the Hospital You Choose Can Make to Your Health Care (& Living or Dying!)

If you must visit a hospital, doing your homework first can, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death. That's because, according to the Ninth Annual HealthGrades Hospital Quality in America Study, conducted by health care ratings group HealthGrades, the quality of care at America's 5,000-plus hospitals varies drastically.

top rated hospitals

If you receive medical care at a top-rated U.S. hospital, you have a 69 percent lower risk of dying than if you receive care at a poorly rated hospital.

As is written in the study's executive summary, "hospitals are in fact not the same," and neither is the care you'll receive at a one-star hospital as opposed to a five-star one.

HealthGrades analyzed 40.6 million Medicare hospital records from 2003 to 2005 in order to evaluate the quality of care at more than 5,000 U.S. hospitals. The team rated hospitals using a five-star system (with five stars being the best, three stars "as expected" and one star "poor") that was based on patients' risk of dying or having serious complications from various procedures.

Pick a Good Hospital: It Means You're Nearly 70 Percent Less Likely to Die

Though overall death rates declined 8 percent since the 2005 report, the gap between good and bad hospitals widened by 5 percent. So, patients who were lucky enough to attend a five-star hospital were found to have a 69 percent lower chance of dying than those who went to a one-star hospital.

Meanwhile, even when compared to an average U.S. hospital, those who visited a five-star hospital were 49 percent less likely to die.

The discrepancy was so distinct, in fact, that if all the hospitals in the study had performed at a five-star level, the researchers say 302,403 Medicare patients' lives could have been saved from 2003 to 2005. Of these preventable deaths, half of them were due to just four diagnoses: heart failure, sepsis, community-acquired pneumonia, and respiratory failure.

To put things into perspective, if a patient needs coronary bypass surgery, the study found they have nearly a 73 percent lower risk of dying if the procedure is performed at a five-star hospital as opposed to a one-star hospital. Had all Medicare patients who needed this procedure from 2003 to 2005 had it done at a five-star hospital, 5,308 lives would have been saved, the study found.

Five-star hospitals not only had lower death rates during all three study years, but also, when compared to last year's study, they improved patient outcomes 19 percent more than average U.S. hospitals and 57 percent more than one-star hospitals.

Distinguished Hospitals for Clinical Excellence

Further proving the point that Americans should pay very close attention to the hospital they choose is a separate study by HealthGrades, The Fifth Annual Hospital Quality and Clinical Excellence Study.

hospital quality

If all hospitals in the study had performed at a five-star level, 302,403 Medicare patients' lives could have been saved from 2003 to 2005.

This report identified the top-performing hospitals in the nation, which earned a "Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence" designation. Only 266 hospitals out of nearly 5,000 received this honor.

The researchers then compared patient outcomes between the Clinical Excellence hospitals and all other U.S. hospitals from 2003 to 2005 and found patients attending a Clinical Excellence hospital had a:

  • 28 percent lower overall risk of dying

  • 40 percent lower risk of dying from diabetic acidosis and coma

  • 36 percent lower risk of dying from pancreatitis

  • 33 percent lower risk of dying from community-acquired pneumonia

  • 32 percent lower risk of dying from heart failure

  • 5 percent lower overall risk of complications

What's more, the researchers found that if all patients had been treated at a Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence during 2003-2005, 158,264 lives may have been saved and another 12,410 complications may have been avoided.

How to Find Out What YOUR Hospital is Rated

If you want to find out what grade your hospital received, has free hospital ratings for all 50 states.

You can also check out their list of America's 50 Best Hospitals for 2007, which is based on an analysis of 90 million hospitalization records from close to 5,000 hospitals over the years 1999 to 2005. A sampling of hospitals from the list include:

  • Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois

  • Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pennsylvania

  • Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida

  • St. Johns Hospital Health Center in Santa Monica, California

  • Rio Grande Regional Hospital in Mcallen, Texas

  • Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, Michigan

Recommended Reading

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The 6 Common Mistakes Doctors Make When Treating Older Patients -- and How to Prevent Them


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