FAQ: How We Ranked the Best Hospitals 2014-15

The facts and methodology behind the latest adult hospital rankings in 16 specialties.

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The hospital your doctor recommends for your upcoming surgery is fine – probably. If the surgery calls for special expertise, however, or if age, physical infirmities or a chronic condition could compromise your treatment or procedure, probably not. A visit to the Best Hospitals national rankings and Best Regional Hospitals rankings may be in order. What goes into those evaluations, as well as questions of interest to media and health care professionals, are addressed in this FAQ. Much more detail can be found in a formal methodology report, available as a downloadable PDF

[Read: A Guide to the 2014-2015 terms. ]

Where can I find the rankings?

Why does U.S. News rank hospitals?
Nearly 2 million hospital patients every year face surgery or care that poses technical challenges or an increased risk of death or harm because of age, physical condition or infirmities. The rankings provide a tool to help such patients find unusually skilled inpatient care.

Who is an example of such a patient?
Take an elderly woman diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Most hospitals would opt out of operating on her, as they should; not all surgeons possess the necessary expertise for removing the cancerous portion of the delicate pancreas. Without such skill, the patient would be exposed to considerable risk. A hospital in the Best Hospitals cancer rankings is likely to be where she needs to go.

How are the rankings organized and updated?
The Best Hospitals rankings are updated every July. They are grouped into 16 individual specialty lists. Twelve of the 16 showcase the 50 top-scoring hospitals, based mostly on death rates for patients who represent especially challenging cases, on patient safety and on other measures of performance that can be assessed using hard data. An annual reputational survey of physicians, who are asked to name hospitals they consider the best in their specialty for difficult cases, is also factored in. Hospitals that are not nationally ranked in a specialty but have scores in the top 25 percent of the analyzed centers are recognized as high-performing. A hospital that is ranked or high-performing in at least one specialty is further recognized as among the Best Regional Hospitals within its state and metro area or similar region.

Hospitals are ranked by reputation alone in the four other Best Hospitals specialties, based on the latest three annual physician surveys. Those receiving nominations from an average of at least 5 percent of the responding specialists and the last three surveys are nationally ranked Best Hospitals. Those nominated by at least 3 percent but less than 5 percent of physicians are high-performing Best Regional Hospitals.

Hospitals with very high scores in at least six specialties are recognized in the Honor Roll. (See "What is the significance of the Honor Roll?") 

What are the 16 specialties in which hospitals are ranked?
The 12 data-dependent specialties are cancer; cardiology & heart surgery; diabetes & endocrinology; ear, nose & throat; gastroenterology & GI (gastrointestinal) surgery; geriatrics; gynecology; nephrology; neurology & neurosurgery; orthopedics; pulmonology; and urology. 

The four reputation-only specialties are ophthalmology, psychiatry, rehabilitation and rheumatology.

Are the highest-ranked hospitals in a specialty the best choices for care?
Not necessarily. Each specialty ranking evaluates hospitals according to their performance across a wide range of conditions and procedures. In pulmonology, for example, one hospital might rank lower than another overall but do much better in treating a particular condition, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  

Corrected on July 15, 2014: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 581 hospitals were regional high performers. The correct number is 608.

Corrected on July 15, 2014: A previous version of this story neglected to include Vermont as a state with high-performing hospitals that are unranked.

Corrected on July 15, 2014: A previous version of this story referred to 94 metro areas in which hospitals are recognized. The correct number is 92.

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