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Each year, the same magazine well-known for its annual reviews of colleges and universities, U.S. News & World Report, puts out a list of the top 50 hospitals in a wide range of specialties.

The magazine makes it clear that it isn’t interested on the handling of relatively minor issues. Rather, it seeks to identify hospitals best able to handle the most serious challenges. Covered areas include cancer, respiratory diseases and urology. The 2010 rankings are due out in July.

The magazine claims that essentially three basic factors are taken into account: a hospital’s resources, patient outcomes, and its reputation among physicians. However, according to critics, the rankings place too much importance on the hospital’s reputation. Essentially, they criticize that famous hospitals get high scores just on name alone while lesser-known yet high-quality hospitals don’t get their fair chance.

A recent study in the April 20 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine took a closer look at such claims and found that in most cases reputation did in fact dominate the rankings.

So, though rankings might be helpful, potential patients still need to do their homework and look at the bigger picture, beyond rankings.

Some other options include looking up survival statistics at the Medicare Hospital Compare site ( or even directly contacting a hospital to gather more information on the type of procedure needed.

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