A Consumer Reports investigation finds although bad things can happen at even the best hospitals, some hospitals pose more risk than others.
Patrick Roth suffered several complications following surgery on his back, including a potentially deadly bacterial infection.
"I have memory of being in the hospital bed and in such pain that I was screaming not to die," Roth said.
Many surgical-site infections like the one Roth had can be prevented, according to Consumer Reports. Yet about one in 20 hospitalized patients develops an infection, and that's only one concern with hospital care.
A 2010 government report finds mistakes and other medical harm contribute to an estimated 15,000 deaths each month. And that's just among Medicare patients.
"And this figure is conservative. Many of the medical mistakes that occur in hospitals are not reported, so we only know about a fraction of the errors that occur," said Dr. John Santa with the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.
How safe is your hospital?
Consumer Reports analyzed data from more than a thousand hospitals in 44 states and gave each hospital a safety rating in several categories, including avoiding infections, readmissions after discharge, clear communication about drugs and discharge, and the overuse of CAT scans.
The ratings show that even the best hospitals have room for improvement.
"No hospital got a top score for preventing patients from being readmitted, or for communicating with patients about discharge instructions and new medications," Santa said.
Roth expected a better outcome from his hospital stay.
"Am I better than I was in the past? No, I'm worse now than I was," he said.
Consumer Reports says hospitals are not required to make all their safety data available and many don't. Only six Houston hospitals made their data available.
A scale of 1 to 100, Clear Lake Regional got the best safety score of 61. Cypress-Fairbanks received a 51. Park Plaza got a 48. Methodist Hospital, 47. Houston Northwest Medical Center got 46 and Kingwood Medical Center received a 36. Nationally, the highest score was 72 for Billings Clinic in Montana.
"The canary in the coal mine is hospital infections. The hospitals that are getting the better scores have figured out how to prevent hospital infections," Santa said.
Besides looking at the infection rate, readmissions that were preventable and medical harm caused by hospital errors.