U.S. News Ranks Best Hospitals 2012-13

America's new No. 1 medical center: Mass General.

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See America's Best Hospitals in Photos

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Almost everyone needs a hospital sooner or later. When you do—whether for an aging parent, a sick child, your spouse, or yourself—you’ll face a crucial decision: which medical center to turn to.

Which hospital is the right one depends, of course, on the patient’s needs and location. Whether he faces a tricky joint surgery or a complex heart problem, whether she lives in a big city or a rural expanse, the U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings offer grounded guidance to supplement what patients learn from their healthcare providers. The rankings—now in their 23rd year—feature data on nearly 5,000 hospitals across the country. They span 16 medical specialties, from cancer to urology, and identify top hospitals in several hundred regions, including all major metropolitan areas. No matter where you live or what kind of care you’re seeking, you can find essential data on how medical centers near and far stack up.

[See the Rankings: Best Hospitals 2012-13]

U.S. News this year recognizes more than 700 hospitals as Best Regional Hospitals, indicating they are highly proficient in serving the needs of the majority of patients in at least one specialty. Some parts of the country are thick with solid choices: The New York metro area, for instance, packs in 56 Best Regional Hospitals. Elsewhere, there’s a dearth of such medical centers. Wyoming, for example, has none. In most states and many large metro areas, U.S. News has published a ranking of the Best Regional Hospitals to help healthcare consumers assess their nearest options.

[Which Cities Have the Best Hospitals?]

Some medical conditions are so serious and so complex that they require rare expertise beyond what most top regional hospitals can offer. Hospitals ranked nationally in a specialty have the skill and experience to treat cases that other hospitals cannot. Up to 50 medical centers are ranked per specialty, and a total of 148 earned a national ranking in at least one specialty. The best of these are called out on the Honor Roll, which recognizes 17 hospitals that are each near the top of the rankings in at least half a dozen specialties.

This year, the Honor Roll is led for the first time by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Mass General displaces Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which held the list’s No. 1 spot for 21 consecutive years. Three other hospitals joined the Honor Roll this year: NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

[See the Honor Roll in Pictures]

The rankings are based largely on objective measures of hospital performance, such as patient survival rates, and structural resources, such as nurse staffing levels. Each hospital’s reputation, as determined by a survey of physician specialists, is also a factor in the ranking methodology.

Hospitals’ adoptions of electronic medical records (EMRs) isn’t a factor in the Best Hospitals 2012-13 rankings. That’s because EMR usage, while booming, hasn’t been proven to consistently advance patient care. But given the scope of the digital shift afoot in medicine, and its potential to affect patients and their healthcare providers, U.S. News has taken a close look at which hospitals are leading the way in EMRs. The U.S. News Most Connected Hospitals list highlights 156 members of this vanguard.

For the youngest patients and their caregivers, U.S. News in June published a separate Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll and rankings in 10 pediatric specialties.