You don't have to be the No. 1 hospital in the country to feel good about serving as a health provider — but it probably helps.

The reasons why one institution gets a ranking like Mayo Clinic got from U.S. News & World Report last week, while another institution with a stellar reputation falls behind, can seem a little nebulous.

But when it gets right down to the details, sometimes, what matters most isn't the hospital infection rate, mortality numbers or percentage of happy patients versus irritated ones.

Rather, what matters, to individual patients, can be the simplest of compassionate acts.

Earlier this month, I participated in a diabetes research study.

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Because my body seems to have its own personality — my blood sugars can go off on their own tangents that seem in direct conflict with the amount of food I eat, insulin I take, exercise I get and stress I'm under — the evening nurses had quite a bit of running to do.

They had to prick my fingers to take blood tests, page the doctor for consultation, bring juice to raise my sugar — and repeat (multiple times) over the course of hours.

All the while, they're charting, documenting study protocols, verifying each step is being followed and that it's happening at the right time.

That includes starting IV lines, starting IV fluids and dealing with my peculiar preferences about where I'll allow IV lines to be placed.

Each staff member, individually, was kind and accommodating, as if I was a guest in that person's home rather than a patient (or, in this case, a study participant) griping about the need for a pillow fluff here, an extra pillow there or a blanket yanked off when it gets too warm or added when it gets too cold.

At the end of the study, two or three of the research team members who were finishing up with equipment and protocol steps gave spontaneous but genuine emphasis to how much they appreciated me, and study participants in general, for helping the team learn more about diabetes.

It's that kind of beyond-the-call-of-duty connection to patients that, in my view, truly separates No. 1 from all the rest.

Researchers who talk about gardening. Newly minted health professionals taking their first tentative, though highly educated steps. Nurses who talk about music. And doctors who talk about the patient's latest book.

It's that personal touch, in my view, that's actually No. 1.