Rates of hospital-acquired infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are increasingly used as quality indicators for hospital hygiene. Alternatively, these rates may vary between hospitals, because hospitals differ in admission and referral of potentially colonized patients. We assessed if different referral patterns between hospitals in health care networks can influence rates of hospital-acquired infections like MRSA. We used the Dutch medical registration of 2004 to measure the connectedness between hospitals. This allowed us to reconstruct the network of hospitals in the Netherlands. We used mathematical models to assess the effect of different patient referral patterns on the potential spread of hospital-acquired infections between hospitals, and between categories of hospitals (University medical centers, top clinical hospitals and general hospitals). University hospitals have a higher number of shared patients than teaching or general hospitals, and are therefore more likely to be among the first to receive colonized patients. Moreover, as the network is directional towards university hospitals, they have a higher prevalence, even when infection control measures are equally effective in all hospitals. Patient referral patterns have a profound effect on the spread of health care-associated infections like hospital-acquired MRSA. The MRSA prevalence therefore differs between hospitals with the position of each hospital within the health care network. Any comparison of MRSA rates between hospitals, as a benchmark for hospital hygiene, should therefore take the position of a hospital within the network into account.