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Wednesday, June 18, 2008 1:00 PM

Navigating the Health Care System: Consumer Tips for Choosing a Hospital

Debra: Unless it’s a medical emergency, people often have a choice of where they get their hospital care. But how do you pick the right hospital for you? AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy says consumers have access to a variety of tools to help them choose, including the Hospital Compare Web site that includes feedback from patients on their experiences with their care based on a survey developed by your agency. Dr. Clancy, what’s available on this Web site?

Dr. Clancy: Consumers will find three main types of information: Information about quality, survey information on patients’ experiences with their care, and pricing information for specific procedures. For example, the Web site reports patients’ answers to more than two dozen questions about hospital care, including: How often did nurses explain things in a way you could understand?; Did you get information in writing about what symptoms or health problems to watch out for once you leave the hospital?; Would you recommend this hospital to your friends or family?

Debra: And how should consumers use this information?

Dr. Clancy: All of this information is useful because consumers can use it to make more effective decisions about the quality and value of the health care available to them through their local hospitals. Patients’ experiences are an important part of quality of care. Although hospitals have often asked patients what they thought about their hospital stays, the answers were not usually available to the public. And not having this information has made it harder for patients to compare hospitals adequately.

Debra: Are there other details that consumers should consider when selecting a hospital?

Dr. Clancy: You should check with your health insurance plan to make sure that you do have a range of choices. Some insurers will ask that you pay more out-of-pocket cost if you choose one hospital versus another and it’s important to know that ahead of time.

Debra: What if people are selecting a hospital for their children or parents? Is there anything special that they should consider?

Dr. Clancy: They’re going to want to know what are the visiting hours and so forth, and even, can a family member stay with them? Or, if you’re a parent, can you stay with your child in the hospital? It becomes very important if you have a relative who has special needs.

Debra: Is there anything else people can do to ensure they get high quality hospital care?

Dr. Clancy: Wherever you end up being hospitalized, or your family member or friend, it’s very important to be as involved as possible in all aspects of your health care. Ask questions, consult with your health care professional, and get as much information as you can because, in the end, you’re going to have better results if you do.

Debra: Dr. Clancy, thanks for being with us today.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you for having me.

Debra: To learn more about hospitals in your local area, visit the Hospital Compare Web site online at hospitalcompare.hhs.gov.

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