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September 28th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Empowered Patient: How to choose the right hospital

Chuck Toeniskoetter says he's alive today because of a nurse and a paramedic who made sure he went  to the right hospital when he suffered a stroke on a California mountaintop.   The lesson Toeniskoetter learned can make everyone a more empowered patient.

Toeniskoetter had just finished a morning of skiing on Bear Valley Mountain when he suffered a massive stroke.  The helicopter pilot wanted to take him to the closest hospital, so not to waste precious minutes.  The nurse and paramedic fought to take the patient to a hospital 15 minutes further away – Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Roseville, California – where he was much more likely to receive a drug that could reverse the effects of the stroke.

"They stood on the runners of the helicopter and were relentless with the pilot," Toeniskoetter remembers. "They saved my life."

Toeniskoetter was paralyzed on one side but had a full recovery.  His story will be told in the Empowered Patient special on CNN Saturday and Sunday at 7pm ET.

At Sutter Roseville Medical Center in Roseville, California, Toeniskoetter received tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), a drug that dissolved the clot in his brain.

Kathy Snider was the nurse who made sure Toeniskoetter got to the right hospital.

“He needed to go to a hospital where there were specialists standing by,” Snider remembers of the event some ten years ago. “Small hospitals don’t offer that.” She remembers she had to argue hard with the pilot to get him to take Toeniskoetter to the Roseville hospital. “We kind of got in each other’s faces,” she says.

Studies are now finding that not all hospitals are created equal for every medical emergency. Whether it's a stroke, a high-risk birth, or a heart attack, the research says it's worth doing whatever it takes to get to the right place.

"A lot of people think hospitals are all the same," said Dr. Samantha Collier, chief medical officer at HealthGrades, which ranks hospitals. "They're not."

Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have someone like Kathy Snider by their sides when disaster strikes. But when it’s not an emergency,  you can do you own research. U.S .News & World Report has a listing of 5,000 hospitals across the country.  You can put in your zip code and the procedure you need to have, and the site will tell you the best-ranked hospitals in your area.  HealthGrades and Leapfrog will tell you success rates for various procedures at hospitals near you, and will give safety data for the hospitals as well.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.