JR: Process measures aren’t. But if you were considering a hospital that was rated worse than average in readmissions, mortality, infections, or even one of the patient safety indicators—and had the luxury of time to pick a place—you should ask the hospital to explain itself.

TL: What’s your last bit of advice?

JR: If you’re going to critique a hospital based on any of these measures, make sure the hospital is really a statistical outlier.

TL: Look into a crystal ball for a moment. Do you see hospital metrics as a path to journalistic glory in the future?

JR: Much of the good hospital reporting has been about horror stories of the malpractice kind, where patients are killed or maimed. This new age of hospital transparency should give journalists a chance to write about the routine quality of care that most patients are likely to receive. That may not be as sexy as a botched operation, but it’s important to readers and everyone else if we’re going to better understand what we’re actually getting for some of the most expensive care in the world. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to know which hospitals really deliver superior care, and which ones just advertise that they do.

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.