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5 tips to pick the right hospital

Sick of researching to find the best hospital in your area, or scared to death of how much it might cost? We have advice to help you make a healthy choice for your care.

By Stacy Johnson Mar 28, 2011 11:31AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.

 

The best health care is just what the doctor ordered -- but it's not always what the patient gets. Hospitals are not all the same, and knowing the differences can save not only money but maybe your life.

 

According to a February report (.pdf file) from HealthGrades.com, "Patients have, on average, a 28.59% lower chance of dying at America's 50 Best Hospitals compared to all other hospitals across 17 procedures and conditions," including heart attack, stroke and respiratory failure. Post continues after video.

Improving your odds by more than a quarter isn't necessarily a matter of "good" or "bad" hospitals. Those judgments vary depending on many criteria, including the friendliness of the staff, the quality of the food, and the level of attention and service. The most important factor when it comes to high-quality medical service is experience. Some hospitals specialize in specific procedures or build a network of doctors who have expertise in a certain area.

 

The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, for example, is known for its cardiac care. It's been ranked No. 1 for heart procedures by U.S. News & World Report for more than 15 years.

 

When Dr. Jonathan Berman needed heart surgery, that's where his father -- also a doctor -- suggested he go. But he didn't. Although he personally knows surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic and could easily have gone there, this plastic surgeon from Boca Raton, Fla., instead went to a local hospital. It's not surprising: West Palm Beach is home to six of Health Grades' 50 best hospitals.

 

How can you pick the best hospital? Here's some advice:

 

Research local hospitals online. If you don't have the time or money to fly to the country's premier health care centers, check out the expertise in your area. As health care reform moves forward nationally, transparency and accountability will become more important than ever, and hopefully judgments will become easier. But here are some resources you can use now:

Ask questions. Practice makes perfect, so find out about the specific expertise of both your hospital and physician and how often they perform specific procedures that are relevant to you. "The more times you complete a procedure, the more accustomed you are not only to the routine of that procedure, but if things don't go well, being able to respond to that," says Jerry Fedele, CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

 

Compare costs. Not all hospitals charge the same amount for identical procedures. If you have insurance, obviously you want to make sure the hospitals you're considering will accept it, as well as determining what your out-of-pocket cost might be. And especially if you don't have insurance, remember that there's nothing wrong with a bit of negotiating. (See our story "Confessions of a serial haggler.")

 

Vimo.com has average national prices for health procedures, and from there you can search for local prices, but you won't see prices for every procedure at every hospital. Some hospitals voluntarily report cost information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and if they do, you can find it by doing a search by procedure and then clicking on the "Medicare Payment and Volume Data" tab.

 

Some state hospital associations, like the Washington State Hospital Association, also have pricing information. Your state government website, or its health department, may have resources too. Oregon.gov compares hospital costs, for example.

 

But the simplest way to determine cost is the most obvious: Talk to your doctor and the hospital.

 

Get referrals. Doctors and nurses you trust can help recommend the best places to go for specific care because, as Dr. Berman said, they "live, eat and sleep in them. We're here all the time and see the goods and the bads." Ask about both.

 

Plan for emergencies. You might think knowing your local options isn't much help in a true emergency, but if you live near multiple hospitals, you may be able to request where an ambulance takes you. For example, if you're in a crash, Dr. Berman says, "you're probably going to get great care at a community hospital, but you're better off going to a trauma center where they deal with it on a daily basis, and if you need orthopedics, hip replacements, knee replacements, a rehab facility, it's right there."

 

More stories from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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