A good list for hospital shoppers – 405 chances

01/15/2012 12:00 AM

01/13/2012 11:11 AM

"What do you think is the best hospital for ordinary abdominal surgery?" asked a woman who needed to have her gallbladder removed.

In the past, my answer would have reflected my own personal opinion. It would not have been based on scientific evidence, and there are many hospitals – both good and bad – that I don't know much about.

Today there is good data that she can use to make her choice. The organization that accredits American hospitals – the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals – recently released its list of the country's top 405 hospitals.

They represent 14 percent of the United States and each achieved at least 95 percent on their score card.

None of the biggies – UCLA, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Columbia or Stanford – is on the list, but several smaller hospitals did exceptionally well.

You may wonder why this list is so different from lists like the "Top Hospitals" compiled by US News and World Report. The answer has to do with the way the lists are developed.

The US News and World report asks doctors for their personal opinions on hospitals. Doctors rate hospitals based on reputation for unusual or complicated medical conditions.

On the other hand, the Joint Commission's ranking is based on real hospital data related to common conditions like surgery, asthma care for children, heart attacks and pneumonia. So hospitals are ranked on such important things as giving the appropriate medicines to heart attack patients and starting antibiotics before surgery begins.

Do these criteria really make a difference?

You bet they do – in some cases they can be the difference between life and death.

The Joint Commission deserves a great amount of credit for making this comparative information publicly available and for holding hospitals to new high standards. It seems to be making a real difference in the care people receive – most hospitals big and small are now scrambling to improve the care they provide.

Are these rankings perfect measures of quality?

Of course not, and they need to be made better.

The prestigious hospitals with top-notch doctors still provide very good care, but they don't measure up on some of these important routine quality measures.

So, to the woman who is looking for the best place to have ordinary abdominal surgery, my advice is to pick a great doctor who practices at one of the top 405 hospitals.

See the report at: www.jointcommission.org/2011_annual_report.

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