updated 2/6/2004 7:41:39 PM ET 2004-02-07T00:41:39

Choosing a hospital can be a matter of life or death, and new research shows there's good reason to put some serious thought behind that decision.

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The results of the 2004 Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence competition shows the quality of health care varies greatly from hospital to hospital in the U.S., and a growing number of Americans are taking these issues into account.

A survey released in conjunction with the awards shows that 40 percent of Americans consider a hospital's quality rankings when making a choice about a hospital for themselves or a loved one.

"We were pleased to see from this survey that so many people are taking quality into account when choosing a hospital," says Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs at HealthGrades, which sponsored the survey and awards. "This is very important because there is an enormous gap in the quality of care from hospital to hospital."

For example, researchers found patients who had common procedures performed at hospitals that received the Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence were much less likely to die. In particular, patients undergoing a bypass operation or other heart procedure, such as stent or angioplasty, had about a 22 percent lower risk of death at a award-winning hospital. Complication rates in distinguished hospitals were almost 5 1/2 percent lower.

America's top hospitals
The winners of the distinguished hospital awards are among the top 3.4 percent of all hospitals in the country in seven major specialties: cardiac surgery, cardiology, orthopaedic surgery, neurosciences, gastroenterology, pulmonary, and vascular surgery.

HealthGrades based the awards on analysis of each hospital's risk-adjusted mortality and complication rates for Medicare patients as reported to the federal government.

A total of 164 hospitals received the award out of the 869 considered. For a complete listing, see

How to find a good hospital
Researchers found that hospitals that earned high marks for health care quality and clinical excellence tended to share some common characteristics that people should consider when choosing a hospital.

Larger is usually better. Distinguished hospitals tended to be larger, with an average of 504 beds compared with an average of 181 beds for those that did not receive the designation. Part of a bigger system. Seventy-three percent of distinguished hospitals are part of larger hospital systems. Go east. More than three-quarters of the distinguished hospitals are in the eastern third of the U.S.

© 2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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