Health Buzz: U.S. News Releases Best Hospitals Rankings

When a hospital is bad for you; best children's hospitals.

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U.S. News Releases Best Hospitals Rankings

It's no secret that all hospitals are not equal. The special quality shared by the 152 that made it into the new 2010-11 Best Hospitals rankings (out of nearly 5,000 that were considered) is their ability to take on and meet the most difficult challenges. Their operating rooms showcase delicate, demanding procedures—excising a cancerous portion of a pancreas without destroying the rest of the fragile organ, say, or restoring function to an arthritis-ravaged hand through a creative blend of fusing joints and splicing tendons. They are referral centers for ill patients with multiple risks—advanced age plus heart failure plus diabetes, perhaps, writes Avery Comarow, U.S. News's health rankings editor.

Patients at these centers are not exempt from picking up hospital-based infections, getting the wrong drugs, or becoming victims of other medical errors. No matter how skilled or deep their expertise, even "best hospitals" don't do everything right. But when high stakes call for unusual capabilities, they are hospitals that can save lives that might be lost or preserve quality of life that might be sacrificed. That is why U.S. News has published the Best Hospitals rankings for 21 years: to help guide patients who need high-stakes care because of the complexity or difficulty of their condition or procedure. Fourteen ultra-elite hospitals made the honor roll. They scored very high in six or more specialties. [Read more: Best Hospitals 2010-11: The Honor Roll.]

  • Search: Best Hospitals 2010-11
  • Best Hospitals 2010-11: The Methodology
  • When a Hospital Is Bad for You

    The U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings and other resources can help steer you to a top-notch hospital when a procedure or condition requires exceptional skill. For routine care, such as repairing a torn rotator cuff or inserting a heart stent, most hospitals will do a fine job. Still, "most" is not "all." Sometimes a particular hospital can be the right choice for some patients but the wrong one for you.

    There aren't many hospitals so terrible that they're lethal. A 50 percent death rate or other glaring red flag would prompt padlocks on the doors. But you don't want a place that has little experience with your surgical or medical needs—or is less alert than it should be for anything that could go wrong. Rates of postsurgical complications such as bleeding, infection, and sudden kidney failure vary surprisingly little, according to a recent study of nearly 200 hospitals across the country.

    What does differ are deaths from such complications, says John Birkmeyer, a professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School and the study's coauthor. Mortality rates at some hospitals in the study were almost twice as high as at others. A good hospital, says Birkmeyer, catches problems and responds quickly. What follows are five signs that you might want to think twice about the hospital you have chosen. [Read more: When a Hospital Is Bad for You.]

    • Preparing for Your Hospital Stay
    • Why People Leave the Hospital Against Medical Advice
    • Best Children's Hospitals

      In June, U.S. News announced Best Children's Hospitals. The rankings showcase medical centers that every day deal with kids who have cancer, cystic fibrosis, defective hearts, and countless other life-threatening or rare conditions beyond the capabilities of most hospitals, even those with sizable pediatric departments, wrote U.S. News's Avery Comarow. They list the 30 top children's centers in 10 specialties. In all, 62 different hospitals are ranked in at least one specialty. Eight hospitals, recognized in the Honor Roll, ranked in all 10.

      The likeliest go-to centers for advanced care are freestanding children's hospitals and large, multispecialty pediatric departments of major medical centers that function almost as if they were a hospital within a hospital, with their own staff, OR, and other facilities. But how can their quality of care be measured? Independent, accessible banks of pediatric data comparable to the enormous Medicare files used for key Best Hospitals data do not exist.