Shopping for Health Care: Comparing Hospitals Can Help Consumers Make Good Decisions by Ron Pollack

(Editor's Note: Ron Pollack is the executive director of Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers.)
Have you ever wondered about which hospitals in your community provide the best care? If you or a loved one needed elective surgery, like a knee replacement, how would you pick the right hospital? A new tool called Hospital Compare gives you easy access to important information about the quality of all the hospitals in your area that accept Medicare. This information can help you and your health care provider make an informed decision about the best hospital for your needs.
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a hospital. For starters, pick a hospital that accepts your health insurance (whether that's Medicare or another type of insurance). Consider hospitals that have the best track record in providing high-quality care or performing a specific procedure. Hospital Compare has all of this information—and much more.
(This web site is not intended for use in emergencies — if you're already in an ambulance, for example. If you experience an emergency, always go to the nearest hospital.)
Q: Why is the quality of my hospital important?
A: Not all hospitals are the same — some provide better care than others. Hospitals that provide high-quality care ensure that patients get the right care at the right time and that patients' needs are met. Choosing a hospital that provides high-quality care can help keep you safe and avoid potential problems.
Q: How can Hospital Compare help me choose a hospital?
A: Hospital Compare collects up-to-date quality, safety, and patient satisfaction information for nearly every hospital in the country. You can use the web site to see how the hospitals in your area compare to each other on many measures of quality, and you can see how those hospitals compare to state and national averages.
Q: What information can I find on Hospital Compare?
A: Hospital Compare provides information on a wide variety of quality issues. For example, you can find information on:

  • patient ratings of their hospital experience
  • how often a hospital provides recommended care for patients with certain conditions, like people with pneumonia or people who've had a heart attack
  • the number of patients with Medicare who were treated for common conditions or received common procedures

All of this information gives you a glimpse into the kind of care you might receive.
Q: How do I use Hospital Compare?
A: Using your computer, smart phone, or tablet, go to If you don't have access to a computer, ask your health care provider for help.
Use the search function to find hospitals in your area by entering your address or zip code, and select up to three hospitals you'd like to compare. If you already know which hospital you're looking for, you can search by hospital name.
While you can't always predict when you'll need care, Hospital Compare can be an important tool to help you and your health care provider learn about your options and make the best decision for your health care needs.
Talk to your health care provider about how Hospital Compare can help you.