Publicly reported hospital ratings aim to encourage transparency, spur quality improvement, and empower patient choice. Travel burdens may limit patient choice, particularly for older adults (aged 65 years and more) who receive most medical care. For 3 major hospital ratings systems, we estimated travel burden as the additional 1-way travel distance to receive care at a better-rated hospital. Distances were estimated from publicly available data from the US Census, US News Top Hospitals, Society of Thoracic Surgeons composite rating for coronary artery bypass grafting (STS-CABG), and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS). Hospitals were rated for HCAHPS (n = 4656), STS-CABG (n = 470), and US News Top Hospitals (n = 15). Older adults were commonly located within 25 miles of their closest HCAHPS hospital (89.6%), but less commonly for STS-CABG (62.9%). To receive care at a better-rated hospital, travel distances commonly exceeded 25 miles: HCAHPS (39.2%), STS-CABG (62.7%), and US News Top Hospital (85.2%). Additional 1-way travel distances exceeded 25 miles commonly: HCAHPS (23.7%), STS-CABG (36.7%), US News Top Hospitals (81.8%). Significant travel burden is common for older adults seeking "better" care and is an important limitation of current hospital ratings for empowering patient choice.
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