Research shows that as many as 200,000 people die in hospitals every year as a result of accidents, injuries, and errors.

Not every hospital is a safe place to receive care, but fortunately, some hospitals are better than others and do an excellent job at protecting patients. You should never refuse care in an emergency, but you can be prepared in advance by learning about the safety of hospitals in your community. Here’s what to look for in choosing a safe hospital:

  • Hospital safety score: This provides an A, B, C, D or F score to hospitals based on how well they protect patients from errors, accidents and injuries. Regardless of whether you are visiting the hospital for stitches or open heart surgery, safety is always the most important thing to consider. Hospitals that receive a higher grade have policies and procedures in place to protect patients and have demonstrated lower rates of infections and errors.

  • Hand hygiene: There is no better way to prevent infections than hand-washing. Simply put, your clinicians should wash their hands before touching you or other patients.

  • Central line infections: Infections from a central line (used to administer medications via an IV) can be one of the most deadly and painful types of infections, but they are completely preventable. Ask your hospital what their infection rate is, and if they have policies or checklists in place to prevent them from happening.

  • Staffing to encourage safety: Ask if nurses are getting the support they need in the hospital: nursing is critical to safety. Also, does the intensive care unit (ICU) have intensivists, physicians that specialize in critical care? These specialists can reduce the ICU death rate by 40 percent.

  • Preventing medication errors: Does your hospital have a computerized prescriber order entry system (CPOE) to alert your doctor to potentially harmful or fatal medication errors?

  • Ask questions about safety: Talk to your doctor, nurse and hospital administrators about which hospital is the safest for you and your family, and what they are doing to keep patients safe. If you don’t think your doctor is sending you to a safe hospital, ask if you can receive treatment elsewhere.