Have you wondered how your area hospitals stack up in terms of the quality of care they provide?
Emergencies obviously call for rushing to the nearest hospital. But when you have time to plan, it is worth doing some research and finding out which hospitals do the best job of caring for their patients.
Medicare's Hospital Compare website - at medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search - has made it easier for you to check. The site has overall star ratings to help you better understand which hospitals are top performers, which are average and which need improvement. The ratings range from one to five stars, with five being the best.
The Hospital Compare site enjoys a solid reputation with the public, showing how thousands of hospitals scored on various indicators of quality care. You can compare hospitals on the basis of such factors as clinical outcomes, customer satisfaction and patient safety.
The recently updated overall star ratings offer a snapshot of a particular hospital's quality of care by summing up individual measures of hospital performance posted on the website. The ratings reflect such factors as how often patients get infections after surgery, how long patients must wait in the emergency department before seeing a doctor or nurse and how likely patients are to get readmitted to the hospital after a heart attack.
The stars take into account the mix of patients so that those facilities with a high percentage of sicker patients aren't rated lower than those that handle more run-of-the-mill cases.
Medicare assigned stars to 3,692 Medicare-certified hospitals nationwide. Another 887 couldn't be included mostly because they didn't have enough data to properly evaluate them. They may have been too new or too small and had too few cases on which to base ratings. The ratings will be updated regularly on the website as the government continues to collect the most recent data.
Nationally, 260 hospitals received five stars, 753 rated four stars, 1,187 scored three stars, 1,155 received two stars, and 337 had just one star.
The 31 rated New Mexico hospitals scored an average of 2.9 stars for overall quality of care. Two received five stars, six rated four stars, 11 scored three stars, 10 received two stars and two hospitals had only one star.
The two New Mexico hospitals that received five stars were Holy Cross Hospital in Taos and Lincoln County Medical Center in Ruidoso.
A total of 31 New Mexico hospitals were rated; 11 other hospitals were not rated.
Other New Mexico hospitals' star ratings can be found at medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.
By using star ratings on its Compare websites, Medicare is trying to help you make more informed decisions about your health care. The public reporting also gives low-performing providers a compelling incentive to improve their practices and procedures and, hence, their scores.
Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare and the Medicare Plan Finder also use star ratings to help you check out health care providers and insurers and choose one with quality in mind.
Of course, as informative as these websites can be, they can't tell the whole story about where to go for care. They're simply a screening tool that lets you focus on a few providers that interest you.
Visit with your doctor about the best hospital for you. Research shows that some hospitals do better than others at treating certain conditions. And talk to family members and friends about what they liked or disliked about their recent hospital stays and which facilities they'd recommend.
Medicare also recently updated its "Guide to Choosing a Hospital," which includes a checklist of questions to ask your doctor and explains how to find the hospital that's the right fit for you. A free copy can be downloaded at medicare.gov or requested by calling Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.