(ARA) - Americans are faced with many purchasing choices every day. From cars to restaurant meals, informed consumers often take the opportunity to research their options before making a decision to buy the item that best fits their needs. So why don't Americans apply the same rigor when choosing a hospital?
Like any other product or service, all hospital care is not equal, and not every hospital is right for every person. In fact, the quality of care you receive can have a big impact on your health, mindset and wallet.
Oftentimes, people don't realize that they can choose among the hospitals in their community in a non-emergency situation. When you can plan ahead, whether it's a knee replacement or elective heart surgery, you should look for the hospital that's right for you.
Here are five tips for choosing the hospital:
Talk to your doctor
Find out what hospitals your provider works with, which ones they think will give the best care for your condition, how well the hospital monitors and improves its quality of care, and if it participates in Medicare.
Make a checklist of your needs
Medicare's Guide to Choosing a Hospital provides information on what steps to take to research and compare hospitals, including an easy-to-follow checklist that walks you through the process and highlights important questions to ask along the way.
Compare quality of care
Whether you are on Medicare or not, Hospital Compareis a great resource that allows you to find and compare hospitals that are close to you or across the nation. Using Hospital Compare, you can determine how often a hospital gives the right treatments for certain conditions - like heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia; the number of patients who got a knee replacement or other procedure; infection rates and more.
Compare the experiences of patients
Hospital Compare also provides information on patients' experiences during recent hospital stays. You can find patients' answers to more than two dozen questions, including:
* How often did nurses explain things in a way you could understand?
* Did you get information in writing about what symptoms or health problems to watch out for once you leave the hospital?
* Would you recommend this hospital to your friends or family?
Consider coverage, pricing and logistics
Check with your Medicare, Medicare Advantage or private health insurance plan to find out if you need permission from your health plan before you're admitted for non-emergency hospital care, or if you have to use certain hospitals or see certain surgeons or specialists. This could have a big impact on your choices and costs.
Consider how close the hospital is to your home, family and friends; flexibility in visiting hours; and whether a family member can stay with the patient.
It is important to note that in an emergency, getting the fastest treatment is usually best. Many conditions are more treatable in the minutes after they happen, such as strokes or heart attacks. Hospital Compare is not meant for use in a potential emergency.
All the resources mentioned in the article can be found at hospitalcompare.hhs.gov or by calling 800-MEDICARE (TTY 877-486-2048). To find and compare other types of health care providers such as home health agencies or nursing homes, visit medicare.gov/qualitycarefinder.