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Which hospital is right for you?

Researching end-of-life care patterns at the hospitals in your community is easy. Here's how to do it:

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Go to Dartmouth's Atlas Web site and choose your state. Next, choose the largest city near you, known as your "referral region."

The "referral regions" are ranked in order of the intensity of care provided in the various cities and not by alphabetical order or city size.

Now you must choose individual hospitals. As you click on the hospital, it will appear in a box at the bottom of the screen. When you are finished choosing, or if you have chosen all hospitals in the area, click on generate report to get the information for those hospitals.

The quickest way to read the report is to look at the HCI Index, appearing on the first line. The bigger the index number, the higher the intensity of care. For example, patients in that area of Missouri will find that Columbia Regional Hospital, with an HCI score of 85, provides aggressive end-of-life treatment compared to the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics, which scored 16.

The next two sections of the report on Medicare spending and on how hospital resources are allocated may not be helpful to the consumer, but keep scrolling. The "patient experience report" provides details on how hospitals differ in the average amount of time patients spent in the hospital in the last six months of life. It also shows the disparities between medical centers according to the number of physician visits, the percentage of patients served by hospice and other factors that may be important to you.

And if out-of-pocket cost is important, look at the last column of that particular report. It shows the average co-payment for physician services in the last two years of life.

Despite the dramatic difference in intensity of care at Columbia Regional and University Hospital, the difference in co-payment is only about $200. In some cities, that difference can be considerably larger.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: Jan. 9, 2009
 
 
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