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Choosing a Hospital

Table of Contents


Overview

This may sound obvious, but the best time to choose a hospital is when you don't need one. That way you have the time to compare all the hospitals in your area and think about what your preferences are. You will want to consider what type of hospital you prefer, the hospital's reputation, and how well the hospital fits your needs.

Types of hospitals

There are many kinds of hospitals, large and small. Some are run by nonprofit organizations or charities. Some are public hospitals, which means they are funded by taxes. And some are run by corporations, whose investors get some of the profit. Three common types of hospitals include teaching, research, and specialized hospitals.

The hospital's reputation

Checking a hospital's reputation isn't as hard as you might think. For example, you can ask your doctor what he or she thinks. Or you can check with health and government agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who rate or report on the quality of hospitals.

How well the hospital fits your needs

Aside from a hospital's reputation for quality and safety, here are some other things to consider when choosing a hospital.

The little things matter too. Comfort items can be especially important if you expect your hospital stay to be longer than a few days.

The hospital's location may matter to you too. Think about how far you will have to drive, especially if there will be follow-up visits. Will friends and family be able to visit easily?

Compare the visiting rules of the hospitals you're considering. Some hospitals are stricter about visiting hours than others. Will the hospital let a loved one stay in the room with you overnight?

What are the different types of hospitals?

There are many kinds of hospitals, large and small. Some are run by nonprofit organizations or charities. Some are public hospitals, which means they are funded by taxes. And some are run by corporations, whose investors get some of the profit.

Teaching hospitals

Hospitals that operate in partnership with medical schools are called teaching hospitals. In a teaching hospital, medical students, supervised by experienced doctors, improve their skills on patients, which some people might not like. But these hospitals also tend to have the newest treatments and equipment. And patients often benefit from the medical students, residents, and supervising doctors all working together to think about the best care.

Research hospitals

Some hospitals call themselves research hospitals. This means that many of the doctors who work there do scientific research in their fields of specialty and may even conduct clinical trials. Patients at this kind of hospital are often treated by doctors who are experts in their fields.

Specialized hospitals

A hospital may specialize in one type of patient. There are children's hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, cancer centers, and hospitals for the elderly, for example.

A trauma center is a hospital that is equipped to handle extremely serious types of injuries.

What services do hospitals provide?

Usually, the more beds a hospital has, the more services it provides. Most hospitals, for example, deliver babies. But not all hospitals have a special unit just for cancer patients or for patients with very bad burns.

Hospitals usually have a number of departments that treat patients, such as:

Emergency department.

This is where patients go (or are taken by ambulance) when they have serious problems and need immediate help.

Maternity.

This is where mothers-to-be are cared for during childbirth.

Intensive care or critical care.

Patients in this department usually have life-threatening problems and need constant monitoring. Some hospitals have a separate pediatrics intensive care unit for children.

Neonatal intensive care.

This department specializes in caring for newborn babies who are ill or were born prematurely.

Imaging.

You may see this department if you need an X-ray, an MRI, a CT scan, or an ultrasound test.

Surgery.

This department contains the hospital's operating rooms and, usually, recovery rooms.

Larger hospitals may also have separate departments for certain specialties. For example, a hospital may have a cardiology unit, where heart patients are treated, or a special unit for people recovering from joint replacement surgery.

For certain treatments or surgeries, it can be important to go to a hospital with a lot of experience in those areas. Find out if any of the hospitals you're considering specialize in treating your condition.

Checking a hospital's reputation

Checking a hospital's reputation isn't as hard as you might think.

What should you consider when choosing an emergency room?

In an emergency, it's usually best to go to the nearest emergency room (ER). But if there are several in your area, it's good to do some comparisons ahead of time.

Find out which ER has the shortest waiting times. You can usually find this out by calling the hospital and asking for its average patient wait in the ER.

Short waiting times in the ER are great, but quality of care is important. In some cases it may be worth the drive to go to the emergency room 20 miles away if they have better equipment—a trauma center, for example. Your doctor is a good source of information. Ask your doctor which ER he or she would take a family member to.

And nothing beats firsthand observation. Friends, neighbors, and coworkers who have been to the ER are good sources.


Credits for Choosing a Hospital

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine


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