In 2016, 7.3 percent of Americans took a trip to the hospital that required an overnight stay, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. There were also 136.9 million visits to hospital emergency rooms that year, although some of those were certainly repeat visits.
By the time you’re in the back of an ambulance, you might not be in a position to make requests about which hospital you’re taken to. But if you do have some say in the matter, you’ll want to be prepared, so here are some topics worth further investigation.
Do they accept your insurance?
Even the most ardent defenders of the American healthcare system can acknowledge that’s it often very confusing. Not everyone knows that patients are entitled by law to receive emergency treatment, regardless of whether or not they have enough money to pay the bill. That’s thanks to a law passed in 1986 called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Among other things, it requires hospitals “to medically screen every patient who seeks emergency care and to stabilize or transfer those with medical emergencies, regardless of health insurance status or ability to pay.”
Unfortunately, stabilizing a patient isn’t the same thing as treating the underlying condition. Even if you do have insurance that the hospital accepts, they may demand at least partial payment upfront. In late 2016, NPR reported that more hospitals are requiring patients to pay thousands of dollars for medical procedures before they’re performed.
Asking if your insurance is accepted may not be enough. You may also want to ask when you’re expected to provide the first payment. If they need it before surgery, it’s better to know now rather than be surprised a couple of hours before you go into the operating room.
Do patients give them good reviews?
Locating reliable reviews of hospitals is tricky. First of all, customers are much more likely to leave a bad review than a good one. That’s because good or at least neutral expectations are the baseline. Things often have to be either really good or really bad for us to consider writing a review of the experience. Think about what you had for dinner last night. Unless it was something like the best or worst meal you’ve had, you probably don’t remember many specific details.
It can be hard to know which reviews to trust, but looking at multiple reviews across many sites will improve your chances of getting a full picture of how patients feel. Look for patterns in reviews as well. If one person says a doctor ridiculed her, that’s weird but not exactly reliable. If ten people say that, then either there’s a coordinated campaign to trash the doctor or, more likely, this doctor really does insult patients.
Have they been sued a lot?
Search local news for any recent mentions of your local hospitals. You can also search for the name of the hospital plus “lawsuit” to see how often they get sued for things like medical malpractice. Every hospital gets sued sometimes, and that’s why doctors and medical professionals carry insurance. But you want to make sure there’s not a trend of people leaving the hospital worse than when they came in. People typically go to hospitals to get better, and if they don’t, they’ll end up looking for a medical malpractice attorney once they’re out.
Look for signs that the hospital’s culture is problematic. One bad doctor is an issue, but if half the staff can’t do their job right, then something has gone terribly wrong inside that facility. You don’t want to get treated at a hospital that’s in the midst of an institutional crisis.