The health system in the United States can be a bit confusing and the patient experience can sometimes feel like a passive one: patients are shuttled from doctor to doctor without much say in how they are being treated. The reality, though, is that patients can often take charge of their own healthcare decisions. That includes choosing the best hospital to fit their needs. But how do you choose the right children's hospital, emergency room, or clinic? Here's everything that you need to consider.
Location, location, location
Let's start with the obvious: If you need emergency medicine, going to the right location is going to be key. If the best doctor for a given emergency procedure is in New York, but you're not, then that doesn't help you much. It goes without saying, then, that the location of your hospital matters.
But this doesn't mean that you should always default to the nearest hospital. For non-emergency procedures, you should consider all reasonable options. And even emergencies sometimes come with options. You should establish ahead of time which hospital you want to be taken to in the event of an emergency. If the best option is three minutes farther away from where you live, poor planning and communication could lead to your ending up at the inferior and slightly closer one.
Read the reviews
You would certainly read reviews before buying a new car or hiring a home improvement team. You might even read reviews online before choosing a restaurant. But is there really a reason to check out online reviews of hospitals?
Well, the answer is yes. We may not all be experts in healthcare and medicine, but each of us is perfectly capable of telling others how long we had to wait at the emergency room and whether the doctors, nurses, and other staff members at a given hospital treated us with respect. This is the kind of feedback that you can expect to see in negative reviews of hospitals, and they are valuable things to know.
The important thing to realize, though, is that hospital reviews should be treated much differently than restaurant reviews. Try to look for a source that specifically addresses healthcare services, hospitals, and medical practitioners. You should consider their rating or rank, but be sure to also really read the reviews. See what others have to say about patient care at local university hospitals and other options.
Consider professional reviews, too. U.S. News, for example, ranks hospitals and creates an honor roll with all the best ones.
Everyone has something they are better at than others. The same things tends to be true of larger groups, operations, and institutions — including hospitals. Inpatient care for overdoses and poisonings may be better at one hospital, while another nearby option may be better for brain or heart surgery. The hard part, of course, is figuring out which is which.
Consider your options and do your research. Read more than just hospital reviews. Read reviews of individual doctors and departments. The hospital reviews may reflect strengths and weaknesses that don't apply to every medical specialty. You need need to make sure that you're getting the top practitioner in the area to care for your specific issue.
This is the hard part: Your medicare or other insurance policy may lead to different financial outcomes depending on which hospital you go to. That's why it pays to keep your insurance company in the loop as you consider your options. Read over the paperwork, and then call them to double-check the details. You don't want to end up at a hospital that might rank among the least cost-effective for your insurance plan.
Your personal evaluation of each hospital will depend on your individual needs and priorities. But if you take the factors above into account, you'll be better positioned to make the best choice for you.