The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Choosing a Hospital

Factors to consider when choosing a hospital include:

  • Type of hospital
  • The approach to care
  • Location
  • Cost for services

Type of hospital

Many types of hospitals offer treatment for breast cancer. Each can give excellent care.

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers are hospitals and medical centers noted for their high quality of science and research in cancer care.
  • Academic cancer centers are affiliated with medical schools and tend to place a high priority on research. These may be called teaching hospitals.
  • Non-academic medical centers are not directly affiliated with a medical school. These medical centers may do research, but their main focus is patient care. These may be called community hospitals.

Hospital volume

The number of people treated at a hospital (hospital volume) may or may not be linked to the quality of breast cancer care in the U.S.

Some findings show the more breast cancer cases treated at a hospital each year, the better the care [2-4]. However, other findings show no difference in survival among women treated at high volume hospitals and those treated at low volume hospitals [5].

Multidisciplinary teams

Many hospitals use multidisciplinary teams to diagnose and treat breast cancer. This means health care providers from different specialties (disciplines) are on your health care team. For example, your team may include your medical oncologist, oncology nurse, surgeon, radiation oncologist and other providers.

In a team approach to care, all the providers involved in diagnosis and treatment meet as a group and coordinate care.

The National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers works to improve quality of care in medical centers. They help ensure medical centers have multidisciplinary services and offer comprehensive breast services.

The goal of a multidisciplinary team approach is better care through increased communication between providers and improved coordination of care.

There’s not enough information on the benefits of a multidisciplinary team approach to recommend it over standard care (currently given at most hospitals).

Other factors to consider

The type of hospital you choose depends on many factors. Besides quality of care, transportation and insurance coverage can also play a role in your decision.

NCI-designated Cancer Centers and academic centers tend to be located in larger cities. This can make travel to and from treatment hard if you live far away.

Another factor is cost. Not all doctors and hospitals are covered by all health insurance plans. With the high cost of breast cancer treatment, you may prefer care from the doctors and hospitals covered under your health insurance plan.

Finally, if you’ve already chosen a doctor, the choice of hospitals will be limited to those where the doctor has practicing privileges.

Interpreter (translator) services

All hospitals and medical centers should provide medical interpreters for people who are limited-English speakers or non-English speakers. Learn more about interpreter services.

Tips for finding a hospital

When choosing a hospital, no single source gives a perfect measure of quality.

Combining information from several sources can help you make an informed decision. These include:

Referrals

Referrals from trusted sources, such as your primary care provider, family, friends or other people with breast cancer, are often the best way to find a good hospital.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) can also help you find a cancer center in your area. Call the NCI helpline (1-800-4-CANCER) or visit the NCI website.

Personal visit

Visiting a hospital before treatment begins lets you get a feel for the facility. Is the staff nice and helpful? Is the building well-kept? Are the waiting areas, restrooms and lobby clean? These things can be important in your decision-making.

Visiting a site also helps you learn how easy it is to get to and from your home and how easy it is to find parking. You can also find out what short-term lodging is available if you or a loved one needs a place to stay overnight.

Accrediting organizations

A number of organizations rate the quality of hospitals in the U.S. Their ratings can be a good sign of the quality of care given by a hospital.

  • The Joint Commission conducts site visits and audits of hospitals and surgery centers to check the quality of their care. It gives ratings based on performance. To find a facility that meets safety and quality standards, visit The Joint Commission’s website or call (630) 792-5800.
  • Commission on Cancer (part of the American College of Surgeons) reviews hospital cancer programs using quality standards, similar to the Joint Commission. To search for an accredited cancer program near you, visit the American College of Surgeon’s website.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Mammography Quality Standards Act oversees the licensing of mammography centers. A list of centers meeting the FDA’s quality standards is available online or by calling the NCI’s Cancer Information Service at (800) 4-CANCER.

    The FDA’s Mammography Facility Adverse Event Report details actions taken against mammography centers.

Rating services

Many local and national magazines publish the “best” hospitals. For example, US News & World Report publishes “America’s Best Hospitals” each year (view their most recent hospital honor roll).

While these listings can be useful guides, excellent care is also provided by many hospitals not listed in these reports.

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