For more information of confidential assistance
Call 800-306-3180

Choosing a Good Hospital: 5 Red Flags to Avoid

Doctor Checking the Heart of an Elderly ManWhether you need routine medical care or a specialized operation requiring exceptional surgical skill, it’s important to do your research when vetting hospitals to make an informed choice on the right facility for your needs.

So how do you choose the best hospital in your area? U.S. News recently rated 5,000 hospitals, ranking the leaders in 16 adult specialties. Some of the factors considered in the survey included patient safety, death rates and overall hospital reputation. Mayo Clinic and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center were among the top facilities for cancer treatment, while Cleveland Clinic and the New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell were the best cardiology and heart surgery hospitals.

Choosing the right facility & avoiding hospital negligence

But above and beyond hospital ratings, like those conducted by US News or Consumer Reports, there are other methods you can employ when narrowing down your options.  In light of increasing hospital malpractice claims and shocking stories of surgical mistakes, it pays to be diligent.

A good hospital, says John Birkmeyer, a surgery professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, responds to post-surgical problems swiftly, thwarting life-threatening complications that often ensue. As reported in US News, here are five warning signs that patients should look out for when making this critical decision.

Red flags when choosing a new hospital

  1. Low patient volume – A good standard for hospital volume is at least 450 heart bypass surgeries a year, 400 coronary angioplasty and stentings, 125 bariatric surgeries, 120 aortic valve replacements, and 50 aortic aneurism repairs annually.
  2. Lack of intensivists – An intensivist is a specialist whose sole job is to manage patients in the intensive care unit, or ICU. Research has shown that ICU patient deaths drop by 25 percent when under the care of an intensivist. Facilities with 250 beds or more should have at least one on staff.
  3. Low surgeon volume – Studies indicate that surgeons who perform large numbers of specialized procedures have lower patient complication rates, meaning your chosen doctor plays a critical role in the equation. A prospective surgeon should be able to offer concrete data on his or her yearly surgical procedures and related complication/death rates.
  4. High rate of readmissions – Yale University cardiologist Harlan Krumholz cautions that too many hospital readmissions imply a lack of coordinated patient care following discharge. Frumholz created readmissions standards for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia for a consumer website – Hospital Compare – run by the centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
  5. Shortage of qualified nurses – Patients are encouraged to contact the hospital’s director of nursing for information on current nurse to patient ratios. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that a patient’s risk of death was significantly greater in wards where the nurses were attending to eight or more patients during a shift, compared to four or fewer. Additionally, those nurses with four-year degrees had lower incidents of patient fatalities compared to RNs with two-year degrees.

Using hospital safety scores

For patient safety, hospitals vary greatly in terms of how effective they are at averting medical errors and avoiding malpractice. Consumer Reports also ranks hospitals using key categories related to patient safety. These include: avoiding infections, avoiding readmissions, communicating about new medications and discharge, suitable use of chest and abdominal CT scanning, avoiding serious complications, and avoiding mortality. Ratings are calculated on a 100-point scale.

Even if your insurance plan restricts your network of hospital choices, ratings like these can warn patients about deficient areas, enabling you to take more proactive measures.