Patients and families cannot be faulted for wanting the best doctors and best care facilities available. For invasive procedures and tests that could determine life or death, it only makes sense. But to what extent does our idea of "the best care possible" reflect reality, and to what extent does it reflect public relations stunts?

Recently, U.S. News and World Report has released its annual list of the Best Hospitals. This can be important information for consumers, as rankings are based on a mix of death rates and physician reputation. But like its college rankings counterpart, the methodology is flawed, and whether the rankings change anything for hospitals and patients is questionable.

Competition amid hospitals has become apparent in recent years. Television commercials and subway advertisements for hospital care have become commonplace. Each advertisement touts that the care at one hospital is better than any other. Though, one has to wonder how useful such advertisement campaigns are. The New York Times reports that in 2010, large hospitals, with 400 or more beds spent more than $2 million each on advertising.

Such a shocking figure could be enough to offer free care to those in need or to improve the standard of care in the hospital. Some critics say spending these amounts on advertising, especially in light of runaway healthcare spending, are wasteful or indulgent.

"Those TV commercials saying 'I got my cancer care at X hospital' are a shame, definitely wasteful." Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Scripps Health in California tells The New York Times. Advertisements that come to mind are those by New York-Presbyterian, featuring cancer survivors telling their heatwrenching stories, similar to the one shown below.

Some critics warn that hospital self-promotion is not just costly, but also potentially dangerous. While a hospital ranking can be reassuring to patients, advertisements praising hospitals could potentially be misleading and thus detrimental to a hospital's reputation. Robert Steinbuch J.D., a professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, explains that much of the time, hospitals claim that their facilities and technology are "state of the art" and among the best out there. Meanwhile, they are using the same CT scans and MRIs that are in use at most other hospitals.

One of the purposes hospital rankings serve is so that hospitals can enter the same competitive market promulgated by rank-and-review websites like Yelp or Angie's List. However, the standard of care at hospitals may not change how many people use their facilities. People hoping to receive particular treatments, like a knee surgery, or cancer care, will seek treatment close to their homes. That is, given that Johns Hopkins Medical Center is the top rated in the country, a patient from California is unlikely to make the trek to seek treatment there, especially if there are hospitals in their own hometown they can go to for the same treatments.

Many of our nation's hospitals can provide adequate care. It is likely that the major selling point, as explained above, may be convenience: some studies show that patients prefer nearby hospitals with worse results over ones with better outcomes farther away.

There is nothing wrong with the desire to provide quality health care to all Americans. However, when positive advertising creates bigger profits for hospitals whose only aim should be to care for its patients, then the question of ethics comes into play. While the U.S. News and World Report can be helpful, it is unlikely they do in the short term much aside from boost hospital staff's egos. But in the long term, rankings like these might fuel spending on advertising campaigns, instead of caring for patients.