Have you wondered how your area hospitals stack up in terms of the quality of care they provide?

Emergencies obviously call for rushing to the nearest hospital. But when you have time to plan, it is worth doing some research and finding out which hospitals do the best job of caring for their patients.

Medicare’s Hospital Compare website – at medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html – has made it easier for you to check that. The site has overall star ratings to help you better understand which hospitals are top performers, which are average and which need improvement.  The ratings range from one to five stars, with five being the best.

The Hospital Compare site enjoys a solid reputation with the public, showing how thousands of hospitals scored on various indicators of quality care. You can compare hospitals on the basis of such factors as clinical outcomes, customer satisfaction and patient safety.

The overall star ratings offer a snapshot of particular hospitals’ quality of care, by summing up individual measures of hospital performance posted on the website. The ratings reflect such factors as how often patients get infections after surgery, how long patients must wait in the emergency department before seeing a doctor or nurse, and how likely patients are to get readmitted to the hospital after a heart attack.

Medicare assigned stars to 3,725 Medicare-certified hospitals nationwide. Another 848 couldn’t be included, mostly because they didn’t have enough data to properly evaluate them. They may have been too new or too small and, therefore, had too few cases on which to base ratings. The ratings are updated regularly on the website, as the government continues to collect the most recent data.

Nationally, 293 hospitals received five stars, 1,086 rated four stars, 1,264 scored three stars, 800 received two stars, and 282 had just one star.

The 85 rated Oklahoma hospitals scored an average of 3.2 stars for overall quality of care – squarely in the middle. Nine received five stars, 24 rated four stars, 28 scored three stars, 19 received two stars, and five had just one star.

The nine Oklahoma hospitals that received Medicare’s top rating of five stars were Arbuckle Memorial Hospital Authority in Sulphur, Community Hospital in Oklahoma City, McBride Orthopedic Hospital in Oklahoma City, Memorial Hospital in Stilwell, Oklahoma Heart Hospital South in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Surgical Hospital in Tulsa, St. John Broken Arrow Hospital in Broken Arrow and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Enid.

Here are the scores for area hospitals:

Ada – Chickasaw Nation Medical Center – 4 stars

Ada – Mercy Hospital Ada – 2 stars

Norman – Norman Regional – 3 stars

Oklahoma City – Alliance Health Deaconess – 1 star

Oklahoma City – Community Hospital – 5 stars

Oklahoma City – Integris Baptist Medical Center – 4 stars

Oklahoma City – Integris Southwest Medical Center – 2 stars

Oklahoma City – Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City -- 3 stars

Oklahoma City – McBride Orthopedic Hospital – 5 stars

Oklahoma City – Oklahoma Center for Orthopaedic and Multi-Specialty Surgery – 4 stars

Oklahoma City – Oklahoma Heart Hospital – 5 stars

Oklahoma City – Oklahoma Heart Hospital South – 5 stars

Oklahoma City – OU Medicine – 1 star

Oklahoma City – SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital - Oklahoma City – 3 stars

Seminole – Alliance Health Seminole – 3 stars

Shawnee – SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital - Shawnee – 2 stars

Other Oklahoma hospitals’ star ratings can be found at medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html.

By using star ratings on its Compare websites, Medicare is trying to help you make more informed decisions about your health care. The public reporting also gives low-performing providers a compelling incentive to improve their practices and procedures and, hence, their scores.

Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare and the Medicare Plan Finder also use star ratings to help you check out health care providers and insurers and choose one with quality in mind.

Of course, as informative as these websites can be, they can’t tell the whole story about where to go for care. They’re simply a screening tool that lets you focus on a few providers that interest you.

Visit with your doctor about the best hospital for you. Research shows that some hospitals do better than others at treating certain conditions. And talk to family members and friends about what they liked or disliked about their recent hospital stays and which facilities they’d recommend.

Medicare also recently updated its “Guide to Choosing a Hospital,” which includes a checklist of questions to ask your doctor and explains how to find the hospital that’s the right fit for you. A free copy can be downloaded at medicare.gov or requested by calling Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.

Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’ve made an informed choice about your care. Then you can concentrate on the rest of your preparations for your hospital stay.