What the Terms Mean

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Podcasts: America's Best Hospitals

Honor Roll

List of hospitals, ordered by points, that excelled in at least six specialty rankings. Two points were awarded for each specialty in which a hospital scored 3 or more standard deviations (a statistical standard) above the mean, 1 point for scoring 2 SDs or more above the mean.

U.S. News Score

Summarizes overall quality of inpatient care in 12 specialties. One third of the score is based on reputation, one third on mortality rate, and one third on factors that vary by specialty, such as patient volume, nursing care, and cutting-edge technologies. A score of 100 is assigned to the top-ranked hospital in each specialty. In four other specialties (Ophthalmology, Psychiatry, Rehabilitation, and Rheumatology), ranking is determined solely by reputation.

Reputation (%)

Indicates the percentage of board-certified physicians responding to U.S. News surveys in 2006, 2007, and 2008 who cited a hospital as among the best in their specialty for patients with difficult or complex conditions.

Mortality index

Compares the number of deaths in 2004, 2005, and 2006 of Medicare inpatients within 30 days after admission with the number expected, after adjusting for severity of condition. A mortality index of 1.00 means the number of actual and expected deaths was the same. Below 1.00 is better (fewer deaths than expected); above 1.00 is worse (more deaths than expected).

Discharges (three years)

Total number of Medicare inpatients who received specified kinds of medical or surgical care during 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Nurse staffing

Indicates relative balance of nurses to patients; higher is better. Nurses must be on-staff RNs, not temps or from agencies. The number is based on "full-time equivalents"—two half-time nurses add up to one full-time equivalent, for example. The number of patients is an adjusted daily average of outpatients and inpatients, with inpatients weighted more heavily.

Nurse Magnet hospital

Indicates whether as of Feb. 1, 2008, a hospital met standards for nursing excellence set by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an arm of the American Nursing Association.

Advanced technologies

Indicates how many technologies, drawn from a list of those considered important (such as full-field digital mammography or robotic surgery), are offered in a particular specialty. The highest possible number varies by specialty—for example, seven in Cancer and five in Heart and Heart Surgery.

Patient services

Indicates how many services, drawn from a list of those considered important to the overall quality of a patient's stay, are offered in a particular specialty (such as an Alzheimer's center in Geriatric Care or genetic testing in Neurology and Neurosurgery). The highest possible number varies by specialty—for example, nine in Geriatric Care and eight in Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Trauma center

Indicates a hospital has a state-certified Level 1 or 2 trauma center, capable of providing advanced care for severely injured patients. Studies suggest certification reflects overall quality of care.

NCI cancer center

Indicates designation by the National Cancer Institute as a "clinical" or "comprehensive" cancer center, denoting high-quality research and clinical care, as of Feb. 1, 2008.

FACT credit

Indicates whether as of Feb. 1, 2008, a hospital met standards set by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy for transplantation of cells to treat cancer. Half a point was given if accredited only for autologous transplants, in which a patient's cells are removed, radiated, and returned. A full point was given if accredited for allogeneic transplants, in which cells are donated by another person (allowing a greater number and more kinds of cell transplants), or for both autologous and allogeneic transplantation.

NIA Alzheimer's center

Indicates certification by the National Institute on Aging as an Alzheimer's Disease Center, denoting high-quality research and clinical care, as of Feb. 1, 2008.

Epilepsy center

Indicates whether a hospital met Level 4 standards set by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers for staffing, technology, and training as of Feb. 1, 2008. Level 4 is the highest degree of recognition, denoting a regional or national referral facility.