Each candidate in the 12 data-driven rankings received a U.S. News score from 0 to 100 that was based on four elements: reputation, patient survival, patient safety, and care-related factors such as nursing and patient services. The hospitals with the top 50 scores in each specialty were ranked. Hospitals with slightly lower scores that nevertheless fell in the top 25 percent of the range in a given specialty are recognized as high-performing in that specialty. (For more about what it means to be a high-performing hospital, see How U.S. News Selected the Best Regional Hospitals.) Scores and data for all of the eligible hospitals in each specialty are also posted. (Use of electronic health records was not factored in, but see our separate list of Most Connected Hospitals.) The four elements and their weightings, in brief:
Survival score (32.5 percent). A hospital's success at keeping patients alive was judged by comparing the number of Medicare inpatients with certain conditions who died within 30 days of admission in 2008, 2009, and 2010—the three latest years for which data are available—with the number expected to die given the severity of illness. Hospitals were scored from 1 to 10, with 10 indicating the highest survival rate relative to other hospitals and 1 the lowest rate. Software used by many researchers (3M Health Information Systems Medicare Severity Grouper) took each patient's condition into account.
Patient safety score (5 percent). Harmful blunders occur at every hospital; this score reflects how hard a hospital works to prevent six of the most egregious types. Injuries during surgery and major bleeding afterwards are two examples of the six categories of medical mishaps that were factored in. A hospital among the top 25 percent in this regard earned a score of 3, those in the middle 50 percent scored a 2, and those in the lower quartile scored a 1.
Reputation (32.5 percent). Each year, 200 physicians per specialty are randomly selected and asked to list the hospitals they consider to be the best in their specialty for complex or difficult cases without considering location or expense. To reduce the possibility that year-to-year shifts in physician perspective will skew the rankings, U.S. News each year bases the reputational score on the combined results of three years of surveys. The figure published for each hospital is the average percentage of specialists in 2010, 2011, and 2012 who named the hospital. (In the four specialties where rank relies only on reputation, hospitals were ranked if they were cited by at least 5 percent of physicians who responded to the most recent three years of U.S. News surveys.)
Other care-related indicators (30 percent). These include nurse staffing, technology, and other measures that have been found to be related to quality of care. The main source was the American Hospital Association's 2010 survey of all hospitals in the nation.
The rankings were produced for U.S. News by RTI International, a leading research organization based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Be sure to add your own fact-gathering to ours and to consult with your doctor or other medical professional; no hospital is best for every patient.