Tips For Choosing The Right Hospital

All hospitals are definitely not created equal. Specialty and “boutique-type” hospitals are popping up in every good sized town and the ones that used to be of the “general” variety, have also restructured, added or deleted services and found their niche in the new world of hospital services. To make it even more confusing, many free-standing surgery centers, 24 hour emergency centers and other ancillary service centers are proliferating at a phenomenal rate. As a retired health care business development specialist, I can only imagine how hospital systems are scrambling to keep up and position themselves as the leaders with the newest and best equipment and services.
But, as a consumer, how do you know that the hospital you choose is really the right one for you?

There is an enormous amount of very clinical (and sometimes confusing) information about any hospital that is licensed to operate in the United States. You can find it all over the internet or just by calling the hospital association for your state and requesting information such as mortality and morbidity statistics (cheery reading) or how the hospital scored on its most recent Joint Commission survey. The Joint Commission is an independent group of experts in all areas of hospital operation, from safety, to bedside care, to the food served in hospitals. Most hospitals voluntarily submit to these often grueling (and surprisingly subjective, not to mention inconsistent) surveys because their ability to accept most of the larger insurance carriers requires a certain minimum score to participate.

But, most health care consumers want to take a “snapshot” of a hospital, make a quick decision….and hope for the best. The following hospital tips have been compiled by the people who know the hospitals best: hospital professionals, themselves. They are often indicators of how the hospital operates, overall, and can be a quick and easy way to determine what kind of care you are likely to get.

1. The hospital’s appearance is an important and surprisingly often overlooked indicator of how the hospital functions. Look at the flooring. Are the carpets worn and dirty? Are the elevators polished and bright or do they look old, dingy and downright grimy? What do the public restrooms look (and smell) like? Are the hospital personnel well-dressed in proper uniforms? Is the signage appropriate and easy to read? Can you find your way around without assistance? Are the common areas bright and clean, with healthy plants and comfortable chairs? You can be pretty certain that if the hospital looks bad, the care probably will be, too. (The exception to this rule can be the downtown trauma hospitals in big cities. These often grungy places can be the best places to go if you have suffered some horrendous trauma, such as a gunshot, dismemberment, etc. In that case, you will hardly be noticing your surroundings. But, don’t go there to have your baby and expect a lovely environment!).

2. Find out what the hospital is well-known for. This can be difficult as hospitals tend to advertise, just like any other business and they sometimes have quite inflated ideas of what they are (or should be). An example of this is the hospital that advertises itself as “for children” and directs a lot of their advertising budget towards convincing the public that it is. True Children’s Hospitals are just that: for children ONLY. They don’t treat adults. They are the only hospitals who can accurately claim that children are their specialty.

3. How hospitals staff their nursing units says a lot about the level of care you will receive should you wind up in one of them. However, this is not information that most hospitals will share with you. What you want to know is the nurse to patient ratio. A hospital that tends to staff down will have too many patients being cared for by exhausted and overworked individuals. Before you choose a hospital, take advantage of a visit to a friend or acquaintance who might be a patient there and use your powers of observation. Or, just hang out by the nurse’s station for awhile. If it looks and sounds like chaos and there are a lot of call buttons going off and no one answering, this is a red flag.

4. All hospitals do not charge the same for same or similar services. Surprise! So, how can you comparison shop between hospitals? One way would be to contact the hospital association for your state and request that information. But, you can also call a few hospitals ahead of time to get an estimate on the cost of your surgery or procedure. You will need to give them all the information you can including what kind of insurance you have, the exact condition you have and what the surgery or procedure will be that you are contemplating. You might find that you could save several thousand dollars by choosing one hospital over another (assuming your physician/surgeon is licensed, and willing, to perform your surgery there).

5. Have lunch or a snack in the hospital’s cafeteria. The same food is served to the patients, so pay attention. Is it fresh and acceptable? If not, you might want to cross this hospital off your list. (You would be surprised by the number of times people have been made sick by eating the food in some hospitals). You should also know that most hospitals, nowadays, farm out their food services to outside companies such as the ones who provide food services to large venues, like ballparks and convention centers.

This checklist can provide you with a very revealing snapshot of the hospital you are considering without wading through mountains of data. And when it comes down to it, the place you choose should be one that you feel safe and relatively comfortable in. If you do just a little bit of homework in advance of your choosing a hospital, you might find that it pays off in the end with a better hospital stay.

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