If you are brought to the hospital with a stroke or heart attack, your geographic location could mean the difference between life and death. A study released today by hospital rating organization HealthGrades shows that people in the nation's highest-ranked hospitals (most of which are in the midwest) are 70% less likely to die than those in the lowest-ranked (most of which are in the south). The group looked at survival rates for 17 different problems or procedures, including stroke, heart attack, sepsis, and pneumonia. The report rates hospitals on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, correcting for differences in services offered. According to the study authors:

If all hospitals performed at the level of a 5-star rated hospital across the 17 procedures and diagnoses studied, 237,420 Medicare lives could have potentially been saved from 2005 to 2007. The region with the lowest overall risk-adjusted mortality rates was the East North Central region (IL, IN, MI, OH, and WI), while the East South Central region (AL, KY, MS, and TN) had the highest mortality rates.

What's surprising is that the best survival rates were not in the wealthiest regions of the nation, though the lowest survial rates were in some of the most impoverished areas. Generally, the high survival rates had to do with the density of 5-star rated hospital facilities. The health gap between different regions in the U.S. is an issue that's likely to affect future generations in the country far more than the collapse of the world finance markets. Though of course money problems will only exacerbate our already-existing health problems. But there is just something so stark about a statistic showing that where you live means you're 70 percent more likely to continue living if you go to the hospital. It brings home the reality of a crisis that's only going to get worse. AP Photo/John Bazemore. Death rate 70 percent lower at top-rated hospitals [via HealthGrades]