The Six Key Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Hospital

July 31, 2014 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn

When an illness or injury means you need inpatient or outpatient care at a hospital, how can you choose the most appropriate medical center? What factors should you consider and what resources can you turn to for help making your decision?

Your choice of doctors and hospitals can make a difference in the quality of care you receive and the resulting health outcomes. Many people choose doctors and hospitals based on location, familiarity, or word of mouth, but these are not necessarily the best indicators of quality.

These six questions can help you determine which hospitals are best suited to meet your specific health needs.

1. Is the hospital accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO)?

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), an independent, not-for-profit organization, evaluates and accredits more than 15,000 health care organizations and programs in the US. Hospitals participate in the certification process on a voluntary basis.

The Joint Commission conducts on-site surveys at health care organizations at least every three years. As part of the process, the JCAHO provides the public with information in Quality Reports. You can get a Quality Report for a particular hospital by going to or

2. How often does the hospital perform the surgery I need?

Research shows that hospitals that perform higher volumes of a procedure get better results. Ask how often both the hospital and doctor do the procedure. Also ask for information about patient outcomes, such as mortality rates, complication rates, recovery time, physical function, quality of life, or other outcomes applicable to your procedure and medical condition.

3. Is the doctor board certified?

Check that the physician is board certified in the specialty or subspecialty area you need. Certification is granted to physicians — by any of the twenty-four medical specialty boards recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties — after they have successfully completed a rigorous training and evaluation process. Board certification is voluntary and is distinct from the mandatory state licensing process. All U.S. physicians are required to have a medical license in the state where they practice, but the license does not mean the doctor is certified to practice in a medical specialty.

You can verify a physician’s board certification by checking the American Board of Medical Specialties’ website.

4. Is it a teaching hospital?

Teaching hospitals serve as research and training facilities. These medical institutions attract the best doctors with state-of-the-art facilities, diagnostic equipment, and research grants. Major teaching hospitals have lower mortality rates and shorter hospital stays than other types of hospitals, according to national studies.

5. What is the hospital’s range of services?

Hospitals are classified as tertiary hospitals, which refer to major medical centers; secondary hospitals, or community hospitals; and primary hospitals, or small, rural hospitals.

Doctors at major medical centers practice a full range of medical specialties and subspecialties and can provide complex, specialized care for a wide range of diseases.

If you are considering specialized care or surgery at a community hospital, make sure the hospital has the level of experience and expertise you need. Find out how many times the hospital and the doctor have performed your procedure or treatment. And make sure the appropriate board certified specialists and subspecialists are available for your care.

6. Is the hospital recognized for medical excellence?

Check with independent third parties, such as The American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education, ACEHSA, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and private advisory services.

To learn more about how to find hospitals and doctors with experience and expertise treating the health issue you face, click here.