Hospitals, like all other service providers, vary considerably in the type and quality of services that they provide. Identifying a good hospital before being a patient there can be difficult. National and local news organizations rate hospitals and physicians, but these ratings may be based more on anecdotes and name recognition than performance.
Many times you must accept whatever hospital your doctor recommends and your insurer permits—and in these cases, or if you live in a city with only one hospital, you may not have much choice. Yet even if you can't choose which hospital you'll use, you should know as much as possible about it. Simple things such as parking facilities, maps to the hospital, services offered, and contact phone numbers can be very helpful.
A modest amount of research can help you understand a lot more about the performance of the hospitals in your area. It won't guarantee a good hospital experience, but it will make you a better informed consumer.
In general, you want to use a hospital that has plenty of experience providing the care that you need. For common problems, almost all hospitals may have sufficient experience. For rare problems, you need to be more selective. Published medical reports suggest that this is the case for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) care of sick newborn babies, angiography (a procedure that evaluates the coronary arteries for blockage), survival after a heart attack, and coronary artery bypass surgery.
Call the hospital's public relations or marketing department and ask how often the hospital performs the procedure in question or treats a certain type of illness. Many hospitals can provide information such as how many babies are delivered, how many C-sections are done, and so on. This can give you some idea of the experience of hospital personnel in a particular area. Almost all hospitals publish an annual report that details revenue, expenses, number of patients treated, and many other operational details about the hospital. It is often biased as the hospital seeks to cast all facts in the best light possible, but the facts and numbers should be accurate. You can usually obtain a report just by calling and requesting it.