Top Docs 2008 Part I: Who to See

How Hospitals Get Rated…

Hospital report cards usually are built on one or more of the following: practices (how an institution runs), outcomes (what happens to its patients, e.g., mortality rates), and reputation (what people say about it). If you can get good coffee in the cafeteria, bonus.

A breakdown of how some key researchers arrive at their findings:

• Health Grades: This national healthcare ratings firm (and technology partner for the Leapfrog Group, below) assigns hospitals one to five stars based solely on outcomes—mortality and complication rates for procedures like coronary bypass surgery—drawn from Medicare and state data. Free; in-depth reports $17.95;

• Hospital Compare: Set up in part by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this site doesn’t rate or rank per se, but instead lets users look at hospitals side by side in checking outcomes for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia treatment; best practices; and, as of this spring, patient satisfaction (based on a federal survey). Free,

• The Leapfrog Group: A coalition of Fortune 500 companies representing some $45 billion in annual healthcare coverage, the group surveys hospitals on four quality “leaps,” or practices: use of computerized prescription systems, use of critical-care specialists in ICUs, expertise in certain high-risk procedures, and patient-safety measures. Hospitals are rated from 1 (lowest) to 4. Free,

• U.S. News & World Report: For almost 20 years its annual hospital rankings have been the gold standard for consumer evaluation, and you’ll note its logo stamped prominently on the chosen ones’ websites (2008 saw about a dozen Hub honorees, with Mass General and the Brigham notching spots on the exclusive Honor Roll). It draws on physician surveys, mortality rates, and quality-care factors like nurse staffing to score facilities from zero to 100. Free,

Hungry for more info? Check whether your hospital is a magnet for nurses (; see quality reports from national hospital accreditor the Joint Commission (; and learn what the insurers pay for common procedures at different Massachusetts hospitals (