Before I buy a car or appliance, or even choose a restaurant or movie, I check out the ratings and reviews. Your purchase of health care should get the same attention—or more.

At least ten different websites list quality and safety ratings for Pennsylvania hospitals. You can and should use this information in your search for a hospital. Hospital Compare, Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, and The Joint Commission Top Performers are among the most trustworthy, all-purpose places to look.

Ask your doctor for help understanding the ratings

With so many different hospital ratings, getting expert advice about which ones are best for your concerns and needs, and what the ratings mean, is very important. Ask your family doctor or other health care professional for help. The same hospital could get an excellent rating in one place for one kind of surgery or treatment, and a not-as-good rating in another.

Last spring, researchers looked at four well-known hospital rating systems, including U.S. News & World Report's "Best Hospitals" and Consumer Reports hospital safety ratings. No hospital received a high rating from all four systems. Only one in ten hospitals received high ratings from two different rating systems.

Although your choice of hospital is far more complex and important than which movie to see, the same general principle applies. Like critics who look for different qualities in movies, rating systems use different methods and focus on different aspects of health care.

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Just like when you bought that new smart TV, checking the ratings was only one step in the process. You talked to friends and neighbors, and maybe someone who is "in the business" (like your nephew who works at Best Buy).

It's the same with health care. Talk to family, friends, neighbors, and a trusted health care professional.

Take the time to get a second opinion or interview several doctors about that hip replacement surgery.

Would you buy a car without considering several different makes and models?

What buying decision is more important than your health care?

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