How to choose the right hospital

November 23, 2011

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

I once had a client who wanted his insurance company to pay for a rare treatment for glioblastoma--a very aggressive and often fatal brain cancer--at a clinic in Texas. His insurance company asked if it should pay for the treatment, so I looked into it.

The donation to the physician's legal defense fund on his website was the first red flag, and a few calls later I learned that the man had a reputation for changing experiment results, hence the legal troubles. My patient lived in New Jersey, so I sent him to the reputable Sloan-Kettering in New York instead.

What should you consider when you need to find the right hospital for you? The four most important factors are convenience, insurance, reputation, and specialty. The factors most important to you depend entirely on the situation. Fortunately, the Internet provides many online resources to help find the best hospitals based on these factors.

Because it is often an important factor, let's consider convenience first. First Stop Health has a simple locator search engine. Simply type in your zip code and results should appear in order of geographical proximity. Even for those not searching for the right hospital, knowing the closest can be a life-saver.

Because finances are often an issue as well, let's consider insurance coverage next. For those who are insured, call the customer service number on your insurance card to learn which hospitals in your area are "in-network." For those who are not insured, call the hospitals conveniently located to you and ask to speak with their billing department about whether they offer any assistance to the uninsured.

While every hospital will claim it is the best in the country at something, with a host of plaques on the entryway wall to greet you, it's best to do some independent research when it comes to checking a hospital's actual reputation. If this seems too labor intensive, consider hiring a patient advocate to do the research for you. Otherwise, use a variety of online health grade resources, from Health Grades and Consumer Reports to ratings by newspapers such as US News & World Report.

Finally, when it comes to specialty treatment, it's best to first consider how important it is. Spending thousands of dollars just to fly to a hospital specializing in hernia surgery might not be money well spent, given the procedure is fairly standard. If you don't want to hire a patient advocate, be sure to do some due diligence in deciding whether to invest in a trip somewhere outside of your insurance coverage. Look for third-party reviews. Ask your primary physician or specialist. Don't rely on the hospital's website review.

A little bit of research to find a hospital that best suits your needs just might save your life.

Mark L. Friedman MD FACEP FACP is an emergency physician working to revolutionize the delivery of health care.


Originally published Nov 23, 2011 4:34:19 PM.