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Choosing a Hospital for your Surgical Needs

How do you judge quality? 

Most of us seem to do more research when we buy a car than when we make a healthcare decisions that may have lifelong implications.  Perhaps we don’t know what questions to ask or where to turn for information.  Few resources exist to help consumers rate healthcare or hospitals the way Consumer Reports rates refrigerators.

There are many things to think about before making any important decisions, and this is especially true when it comes to your health.  Before specifically deciding on a hospital or where to receive your healthcare, there are some important safety and quality issues to consider.   

Is the hospital accredited or certified? 

There is a difference.  Accreditation, which is voluntary, is more comprehensive than certification, which is mandatory.  The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), an independent nonprofit organization, conducts a quality assessment of over 5,000 or 80 percent of all hospitals in the United States every three years.  Avera Sacred Heart’s JCAHO accreditation assures there are policies and procedures in place to provide the safest possible environment for both patients and staff and is the only hospital in the 15-county region to attain this designation.

Is the staff experienced and specially trained? 

According to the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality, hospitals that do many of the same types of procedures on a regular basis tend to have better success with them.  In addition to choosing your surgeon and the facility, the surgical staff and their credentials are important factors to consider.  The surgical team at Avera Sacred Heart – operating and recovery room nurses, surgical techs and nurse anesthesia providers - has over 700 years of combined experience.  In 2002, this experienced team handled over 4,000 complex and same-day surgery procedures.

Anesthesia Services: Who’s Watching Your Vital Signs? 

Your anesthesia provider is an important member of the surgical team.  Avera Sacred Heart is the only hospital in the region to have medical doctors specializing in anesthesia, overseeing patient care, along with five certified nurse anesthetists (CRNA’s) on staff.  Anesthesiologists are trained to detect potential problems in surgery and recovery along with being experts in managing post-operative pain.  They carefully screen each patient and then supervise or collaborate with the CRNA’s to carry out your anesthesia plan.

Is there a full-range of services within the facility? 

If a complication occurs during surgery, you want the best medical care and you want it immediately.   Immediate access to a full range of specialty departments within a facility is critical.  If there are not critical care services available in the facility, how will an emergency be handled?  Avera Sacred Heart has a physician on duty 24-hours a day, every day of the year, along with a highly trained staff in the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit available in-house to handle emergent and urgent situations. 

Are there state-of-the-art instruments and equipment in the operating room? 

Avera Sacred Heart invests $3 to $4 million each year to upgrade technology or purchase new hospital equipment to ensure the highest quality care available.

How much privacy do patients have before and after surgery? 

Hospitals should be very concerned about patient’s right to privacy.  Avera Sacred Heart takes privacy very seriously and offers fully enclosed, pre- and post-operative rooms to ensure patient confidentiality. 

How does the hospital check and improve it’s own quality of care? 

More hospitals are trying to improve the quality of their care by tracking patient outcomes for certain procedures.  By finding out what works and what doesn’t, the hospital can improve the way it treats patients.  Avera Sacred Heart’s performance improvement process monitors patient outcomes through an ongoing, intensive patient improvement process and uses the data to improve patient care.

Are the patients satisfied with their care? 

Patient satisfaction surveys provide input from the experience of many patients and can predict what your experience in a particular hospital will be.  Avera Sacred Heart compares itself to other hospitals in the nation as well as in the Avera Health system.  Patient liaison representatives assigned to the surgical floor (5th) daily assess patient satisfaction.  In 2002, Avera Sacred Heart’s Same Day Surgery Department scored above the norm for patient’s assessment of overall quality and well above the norm for patient satisfaction with medical outcomes. 

Is there a continuum of care available from before your operation to rehabilitation? 

Often, patients and families are faced with finding rehabilitation programs after surgery.  Issues to consider are the extent and speed of recovery, patient comfort, and family involvement in the process.  Avera Sacred Heart provides both inpatient and outpatient rehab services with physical, occupational and speech therapists.  Joint surgery patients can attend Joint Camp, a team approach to hasten the recovery process.  In addition, new rehab programs are being offered through the Rehabilitation and Wellness Institute.

Is the hospital a non-profit or a for-profit and what difference does that make?

As a non-profit hospital, Avera Sacred Heart reinvests in other services that need subsidizing to exist such as the Emergency Department, staffed 24 hours a day by a physician and support team.  Avera Sacred Heart’s earnings are reinvested into the community, not distributed to shareholders and contributed over $1.3 million towards community health programs in 2002.  As a nonprofit hospital, Avera Sacred Heart accepts all patients regardless of their ability to pay and provided over $1.1 million of free care to 985 people last year.

Are financial options available? 

Hospital charges vary and pricing estimates may not compare “apples to apples.”  What do the charges include?  Does my health plan cover care at the hospital?  Are there payment installment plan options or resources for financial assistance? 

In Summary, Ask Questions

Each patient has the right to CHOOSE where to have his or her surgery.  This is an important decision and for your own well-being, make an informed choice.   You should be comfortable not only with the choice of your surgeon, but also with the facility and surgical staff.