Share this site! The Safe Patient Project is a Consumers Union campaign focused on eliminating medical harm, improving FDA oversight of prescription drugs and promoting disclosure laws that give information to consumers about health care safety and quality.

How To Find A Good Hospital

Copyright 2000 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.
Consumer Reports On Health
June, 2000

SECTION: Vol. 12, No. 6, pp. 1, 3-5


Long before you need hospital care, you should investigate the hospitals in your area. With luck, you’ll be satisfied with one of the hospitals where your doctor has admitting privileges. Alternatively, you could try looking for the best hospital and then searching for a doctor you like who has privileges there.

As a minimum, make sure that the hospital has been accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. For a detailed rating report on an accredited hospital, contact the JCAHO (630-792-5800; Next, check the quality of the medical staff. The hospital’s public relations department or medical-staff office should be willing to answer these questions:

– Is it a teaching hospital? Although patients in hospitals affiliated with a medical school tend to be sicker, the error rates are lower than at other hospitals – probably because such hospitals tend to attract more-skilled doctors.

– Are there doctors available in most specialties and subspecialities? The more serious the ailment or the more complex the operation, the greater the need for a full range of physicians who can treat any unexpected problems.

– Does the hospital often treat people with my condition? Patients generally do best at hospitals that emphasize or often treat their particular problem.

– Does a pharmacist participate in daily rounds, at least in the intensive care unit? A recent study found that such participation reduced medication mistakes by two-thirds. Such involvement also shows that the hospital is serious about preventing medical errors.

– What percentage of the staff physicians are board certified? About 85 percent of all U.S. physicians are board certified. At a good hospital in a large urban center, that figure may be even higher. Smaller, rural communities typically have fewer certified physicians.

– Do the major clinical departments have full-time chiefs? Full-time status allows the chief to spend more time overseeing the department and to institute patient-safety programs. It also reduces the chief’s financial dependence on referrals from other doctors in the department, leaving the chief freer to discipline doctors if necessary.

– What percentage of the nurses are RNs? Registered nurses (RNs) have substantially more training than licensed practical nurses (LPNs). On average, about 85 percent of a hospital’s nursing staff are RNs.