As efforts to rate hospitals expand, patients must struggle to make sense of seemingly contradictory assessments. Many of the following national organizations measure different things in different ways, even though their sources of data are similar.
When choosing a hospital, it's important to understand what went into the rating - and not to rely on any single group's judgment as gospel.
Medicare's Hospital Compare This government site publishes dozens of quality measures that private ratings groups use for their own rankings. It won't compare more than three hospitals at a time and it doesn't synthesize the data into one overall rating.
Consumer Reports This nonprofit calculates a "safety score" on a 100-point scale based on infection, error and readmission rates as well as good communication from doctors and nurses. You need to subscribe to see the data.
Healthgrades This private company rates hospitals in up to two dozen specialties and provides some of the Hospital Compare data in a user-friendly format. Healthgrades also gives out awards and distinctions in various specialties.
The Joint Commission This accrediting group tells you if a hospital has passed its certification reviews. It also gives out awards in areas such as stroke and heart care. Its "top performers" list honors hospitals that follow proper procedures but doesn't assess whether treatments were successful.
Leapfrog Hospital Safety Score This nonprofit group uses information from its own surveys as well as government data to come up with a letter grade for how well hospitals protect patients from unnecessary harm.
Truven Health Analytics 100 Top Hospitals This private company selects best hospitals in five categories based on their size and whether they are teaching institutions or community hospitals. It also picks 15 top hospital systems and best cardiovascular hospitals.
U.S. News and World Report Alone among raters, this media company surveys specialists for their opinions in choosing the best national and regional hospitals in different specialties. For 12 specialties, reputation makes up a third of the score, with data determining the rest. In four specialties the ratings are entirely based on reputation. U.S. News also ranks best children's hospitals.