Choosing a Hospital

Medically Reviewed

The most obvious way to ensure a safe hospital stay is to choose a top-notch hospital with a record of excellent care and patient safety. Several public ratings systems rank hospitals, such as Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Score, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Star Ratings, and U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals. But hospital ratings can be misleading.

In a report from Johns Hopkins published online last April in Medical Care, researchers looked at 21 measures typically used to rate hospitals. Only one—accidental punctures or lacerations during surgery—proved to be a reliable gauge of quality.

So, what should you look for? One measure that points to quality is whether a hospital complies with a set of standards and procedures designed to improve patient safety, created by the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare. To find hospitals in your area that comply, check out the commission’s website.

Another useful measure is nurse-to-patient ratio (six to 10 patients for every nurse is considered ideal) and rates of hospital-acquired infections (which should ideally be zero). For more information about local hospitals, visit your state’s Department of Public Health website or call the hospital directly and ask for a tour.