Answer: If you have a medical emergency, you’ll want to go to the closest hospital possible, of course. But if you have time, it’s like the old song says “you better shop around.”

Just like restaurants or televisions, each hospital is a little bit different. Studies have shown that some hospitals actually do a better job than others of taking care of patients with certain health problems.

As soon as you find out you’re in need of hospital care, it’s time to become Dr. You and get serious about your hospital search. You’ll want to find one that:

• Has good outcomes for treating your condition
• Shares information about their quality & safety performance
• Accepts your health insurance
• Meets other needs you have, such as being close to family

Begin by finding out which hospitals your doctor works with on a regular basis and ask whether one is better than the other for people with medical issues and personal preferences like yours.

Then go online to research. One suggestion is Medicare’s hospital compare web tool: There you can compare hospitals on their performance and read survey results to see how well patients do during and after their stay or call 1-800-medicare for information you’d find on hospital compare. Another good source of quality and safety of care reporting is the leapfrog:

You can also go online or call your final group of hospital candidates to learn more about how often your procedure at their hospital (the more often, the better), their experience with your condition, and information about insurance and billing policies. You should also inquire about the training and background of the doctor who will be treating you if it is not your regular physician.

Take the information you gather and discuss all of it with your health care advisory team. This can include your family, friends and your doctor. But keep in mind that only Dr. You can make the final call about the best place for you.

Sheila Birnbaum’s professional career has been devoted to enhancing patient care. As the Director of the Patient Advocacy Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), Hamilton, NJ, she instituted numerous programs, many which received statewide recognition, including several prestigious rewards.