With so much information at our fingertips, you might be suffering from information overload when it comes to choosing a hospital. Here’s how to sort through it all.

The internet can be a wonderful thing when it comes to research, but it can also leave you feeling overwhelmed. Choosing a hospital is one of the most important decisions you can make, so how can you be sure you’re properly using all the rating systems out there?

First, be proactive. Look into a hospital’s ratings when you’re healthy because if you are suddenly diagnosed with an illness, you may be too stressed out and pressed for time. You’ll want to look at several well-recognized ratings systems to see where your hospital fits in and if there are any other facilities in your area that might be a better fit.

Here are a few sites to review:

  • U.S. News & World Report

National media sources such as this one gather hard data, including mortality rates and patient safety, and analyze them to come up with a rankings system. U.S. News & World Report ranks by specialty and rates by common procedures and conditions. You can also look up overall ratings by state or metro area. The magazine has been publishing these rankings since 1990, and the rankings are widely regarded both within the health care industry and by patients.

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  • Hospital Compare

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service rate hospitals around the country in an effort to help stimulate improvements in care. The website ranks hospitals in up to 57 quality measures and condenses those measurements into an easy-to-understand star-rating system.

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  • Joint Commission’s Quality Check

The Joint Commission is a nonprofit that accredits quality hospitals with a Gold Seal of Approval. Put in your zip code to find accredited hospitals in your area, and see what special certifications they’ve achieved.

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  • The Leapfrog Group

Consumer advocacy groups such as The Leapfrog Group conduct surveys of hospitals based on statistical information voluntarily submitted by the facility itself. (Declining to submit is viewed as a red flag.) It then rates them for safety and quality of care on a scale from highest to lowest.

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  • Specialty organizations

If you’ve already been diagnosed, look at ratings of organizations that cater to your specific condition. For example, if you have cancer, check out the centers that have been recognized by the Commission on Cancer and the National Cancer Institute.

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“These ratings hold us accountable as a medical community and ensure that our physicians, facilities and staff meet the requirements needed to deliver exceptional health care to our patients,” said Thomas Bates, associate administrator of quality outcomes management at Keck Medicine of USC.

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Other methods of comparing hospitals

Unfortunately, there’s no algorithm for assessing all these ratings together. But, chances are, the same hospitals rated well by one method will be recognized by another. In addition to your online research, you may also want to consider these real-life assessments.

  • The opinions of your doctor and others

Because they deal with the healthcare facilities in your region much more frequently than you do, you should inquire about your doctor’s recommendation for the right medical center for you. You can also ask friends and family; although their opinions don’t necessarily assess factors such as safety and quality of care, patient satisfaction does often align with these factors. Finally, be sure to review ratings of doctors who admit patients to the medical center you are considering. Companies such as Press Ganey are contracted by hospitals to send surveys to patients after they are seen by a physician, and these results are compiled into star ratings. These ratings may gave you insight into the kind of care you’ll receive at the hospital in question.

  • A tour of the facility

If possible, try checking out the hospital in person before you need to actually go there. In addition, the U.S. National Library of Medicine has a checklist you can use when evaluating the facility. Logistical concerns such as how long it takes to get there, the parking situation and if the facility takes your insurance should also contribute to your decision. Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable with the hospital, the doctors and the nurses from whom you’ll be receiving treatment.

By Tina Donvito

If you’re looking to receive care from one of the top-rated hospitals in Southern California, visit one of our specialists at Keck Medicine at USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.