Best Hospital Rankings – A reply to Dr. K – what’s best for YOU?

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As readers of our blog know, Dr. Kevin’s blog serves as the source for a number of our posts. Recently, Dr. Kevin posted somewhat of a spin-off –Top hospital rankings doesn’t mean the best medical care | KevinMD.com – of a post he had done earlier about “Top Doctors” does not equal (necessarily) “Best Doctors.” Then today, as I was going through my News Feed on Facebook, lo and behold, here it is again.  I agreed wholeheartedly with him then and  now, and I find myself saying “Amen” to his post.  Problem is – what is the answer, Dr. K?

Check out his blog. He identifies the issue, but does he really suggest the answer? My humble opinion: afraid not!

Let’s explore some ‘tips and tricks’ for you to get close to the right answer. I say ‘close’ because there really is not a perfect answer. If you get great care and all goes well, then that was the best hospital for you and your problem. These after-the-fact answers are always 100% accurate when seen through the best medical instrument available – the retrospectroscope. If you are interested in some tips and tricks for picking an institution for future, non-emergent care, read on.  Let’s see if we can provide you some guidelines for your selection process.

Having been involved with issues relating to the care rendered at numerous hospitals in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and far beyond for many years, I have my own personal opinions where I would go to be treated and where I most assuredly would not go.  In fact, I have often joked that I need to get a medical alert bracelet reading – ‘in event you find me unresponsive do NOT take me to Hospital X (fill-in the blank).”

Lawyers doing medical malpractice have a pretty darn good sense of which hospitals give the best care.  Does the general public? As Dr. Kevin points out, reputation and marketing of that reputation is not the end-all-be-all of defining which hospital (also insert ‘doctor’) gives the “best medical care.”

There’s a certain hospital here in Baltimore that is constantly listed as the “Best.” While that institution does have some of the ‘best’ doctors and allied health specialists, it is also well known to provide substandard care at an alarming rate. The local maxim goes – “If I wind-up having a rare disease, that’s the place I want to go for treatment; however, if it’s garden variety, no way – no how!” Why? Just too busy, too arrogant, not patient- friendly, too willing to turn patient care over to resident-staff-only surveillance and so on. Maybe they are just bored by the ordinary health issue – not complex enough. Who knows?

But here’s the catch – just as ‘top hospital’ rankings doesn’t mean (necessarily) best medical care, nor does overblown reputation mean that there aren’t some, if not many, outstanding physicians at these same institutions. Titles, marketing banners and magazine covers simply do not answer the search for the best institution for your care.

Let’s face it, in an emergency situation you are going to the nearest available institution at least until you are stabilized medically. Whether you elect to stay there for ongoing care may well be a different issue. The more common situation you will probably face is when you are going to undergo elective procedures or care.

Since you are reading this blog, you undoubtedly have a computer. Have you done your homework? Going online to learn more about your medical condition is a good place to start. No, I’m not suggesting you check-out what ranking your doctor or his/her hospital has; that information is precisely at the heart of the problem.

Let’s take one example of putting research into the decision-making process. An obese patient determines that he/she would benefit by bariatric (weight loss) surgery. Putting aside those who see this as a quick-fix alternative to Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, John Doe (J.D.) – our hypothetical patient – might consider researching the various forms of bariatric surgery. Does J.D. know if he should have gastric bypass surgery or gastric banding? If gastric bypass, does his doctor specialize in open procedures or laparoscopic surgery? Does he know the different approaches a doctor can take? What are the risks of malabsorption or the post-operative complications associated with that form of surgery? Had J.D. just typed in “bariatric surgery” in whatever search engine he likes, he would see there is a world of information out there about the types of bariatric surgery, the risks associated with such surgery and so on. Did that handout he received from his doctor really fully educate him on the alternatives to what was recommended to him?

Okay – let’s focus on J.D.’s surgeon. Does he/she have a ‘preference’ for doing open versus laparoscopic procedures? When is the last time, if ever, he/she did one laparoscopically? Consider: did J.D. think that might be the reason why he/she is recommending J.D. undergo an open Roux-en-Y? Is this really in J.D.’s best interest?

Let’s put you in J.D.’s shoes. Would you ask your prospective surgeon what his/her complication rate is? How about  mortality rate? If you think surgeons don’t know their morbidity/mortality rates, think again. What is the most frequent complication your surgeon  encounters following the surgery or treatment you are considering? Are you, for some reason, at greater risk than other patients for encountering this risk?

Hopefully by now you get the drift. This is your body – protect it! Last time I checked, we’re only here one time around. If your doctor makes you feel ‘uncomfortable’ because of his/her reaction to your questions or  the time it takes for  you to understand what you are agreeing to undergo surgically or medically, that might just be a telltale sign to move on.

Best Doctor/Best Hospital? Hopefully, by doing your homework and having a meaningful discussion with your doctor and understanding better the hospital where this will all be taking place, you will determine exactly who is the “best doctor’ and which is ‘the best hospital‘  for YOU! At least this approach will give you a better chance of a good outcome and experience than making your choice based on a title, magazine cover or a banner hanging on the hospital’s facade.

By the way, the same can be said of lawyers. Are we listed as the ‘best’ and ‘super’? We sure are, but you should ask us (or any lawyer you have occasion to meet) the same type of tough questions. Be pro-active. You’ll be better-off for it.

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2 Responses to “Best Hospital Rankings – A reply to Dr. K – what’s best for YOU?”

  1. Ron Miller Says:

    Good post. One point: certainly mortality rates are interesting but probably not a great indicator of surgeon skill. It is like a boxer. Yeah, you are 32-0 but have you ever fought anyone? (Same with a lawyer’s trial win-loss record, come to think of it.) Sometimes, better surgeons get more complicated referrals. Doctors who are focused on their batting average are going to be far less inclined to take on higher risk cases.

  2. Brian Nash Says:

    Ron
    First of all two comments – thanks for jumping in on this post and secondly – compliments back your way for the great content you are constantly putting out there.

    On this issue of mortality rates – I totally agree. The doctors taking the tough cases will typically have the higher mortality rates. Kudos to them for even taking these on. Secondly, if your specialty is one that naturally has a high mortality rate (e.g. oncology or trauma surgeon, let’s say), the odds are that is also going to skew your mortality rates. That’s why my example of John Doe was for an elective relatively low mortality rate procedure – bariatric surgery.

    My whole point is to get people to move out of the Dark Ages when it comes to just blindly agreeing to recommendations for care and to start becoming intelligent consumers/patients.

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