It’s hard to imagine that your choice of hospital could impact the outcome of your disease or illness. But it’s true. Every year, there are a few surveys that look at how well America’s hospitals are performing. One is conducted by the U.S. News & World Report which rates hospitals according to a number of special rankings, such as cancer, heart disease and orthpedics. Their focus tends to be on hospitals that do complicated procedures.

The HealthGrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals is another ranking system that selects the highest performing healthcare organizations across the country that have maintained patient outcomes in the top five percent for at least the last six consecutive years.

HealthGrades looks at over 110 million hospitalization records for every non-federal hospital in the country. To make the list hospitals must have demonstrated clinical outcomes (based on mortality and complication rates) that are among the top five in the country. They must achieve this standard across 26 different procedures and conditions, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, knee replacement, and pneumonia. These elite hospitals achieved a 27 percent lower mortality rate than all other hospitals and an eight percent lower complication rate.

If you want see if your local hospital gets top marks, HealthGrades provides a search function. But what if your nearest hospital isn’t on the list? HealthGrades give you the option of purchasing a comprehensive report. However, there are a few things you can do to improve the level of hospital care you’re likely to receive.

How to Get the Best Care from Your Hospital

  • Be informed and prepared. Know as much as you can about your condition. Ask as many questions as you want to about issues such as survival rates, other treatments, medication risks, and so on. If you have test results, copies of diagnostic tests such as X-rays or MRIs, or recommendations from your family physician, bring those with you.
  • Check your health coverage. Find out if your health insurer covers certain drugs or procedures beforehand so that your treatment is not delayed or compromised. For instance, if the hospital doctor prescribes a drug you know your insurer won’t cover, you can immediately ask for an alternative.
  • Use your health insurer’s resources. Health insurance companies compile data on the quality of are at various hospitals. Ask for any information they have on how your chosen hospital ranks on your particular illness or procedure.
  • Prepare properly for surgery. Before any scheduled surgical procedure your doctor or the hospital will send you a list of things to do so you can prepare in the days leading up to your surgery. Follow them carefully. For instance, there may be some foods you cannot eat, or you may not be allowed to drink water for a number of hours leading up to the operation.
  • Find out if your doctor has privileges. If your doctor does have access to the hospital it can impact the continuity of your care and your treatment outcome.
  • Check the doctor’s credentials. You may be able to research the professional history of the doctor that will be treating you on HealthGrades, or on other sites such as MDNationwide. Also, when you meet with the doctor, ask about their level of expertise, patient success rate, or papers or studies they’ve written or participated in on your illness.
  • Check the hospital’s credentials and specialties. Find out if the hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and if it has a good rating with state or consumer groups. Also, many hospitals become known for particular services, for instance some are renowned for working with sick children, others for treating women’s illnesses, or cancer. If possible, look for a hospital that specializes in your condition.
  • Get support. Managing your medical care can be overwhelming. You’ll be coping with a flood of emotions — and information. Ask someone you trust to accompany you to important tests, doctor’s visits, and to surgery. Consider getting a medical power of attorney so that your partner can make sure your wishes are carried out if you’re unable to do so.
  • Follow discharge instructions. If you don’t, this can slow healing or result in more complications. Make sure you understand the instructions you’re given and follow them closely. If you’re uncertain about anything, call the hospital doctor to clarify.