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In order to be able to measure these aspects of quality, to be able to tell if care is getting better or not, and to be able to compare one hospital to another, it is necessary to use “indicators” of quality. These are national standards developed by experts which are used by every hospital in the country. For example: patients admitted to the hospital with a heart attack should be sent home on aspirin unless there is a reason noted in the patient’s record as to why they shouldn’t take aspirin.
There are literally hundreds of such indicators, but there is no one single overall indicator of quality. Hospitals may score very well in some indicators and not as well in others. National organizations which rate hospital quality choose a sample of these indicators to come up with an overall hospital rating. This results in a wide variation in hospital scores from one rating organization to another. This can be very confusing to patients looking for information on hospital quality.