March 12, 2012

This is my first in my health series. It’s an issue near and dear to my heart because I did a lot of work with compliance at Epic. And trust me, a lot of hospitals care a whole lot about these numbers. More than that, quality reporting is one huge attempt to help bring quality of care up to a certain level, to standardize the care you receive. But whether or not it’s working is a whole separate question.

“The jury’s still out on Medicare’s effort to improve hospital quality of care by posting death rates and other metrics on a public website”

That’s the quote coming out of a recent study that indicates public reporting doesn’t really help improve the quality of care at hospitals. It brings to light the obvious question of whether these current metrics are actually indicative of quality of care received. Now let me ask a better question: how many people outside the healthcare industry know quality metrics are reported on public websites, much less, what that website is?

If the answer is what I think (not many), then the whole incentive of public reporting is somewhat lost, right? Then again, if your hospital has a strong enough reputation, maybe it doesn’t matter. This is one time when the healthcare industry is trying hard to be transparent, to help patients find the best care. And it’s complicated and boring and just piles of data.

My hypothesis: the public reporting aspect of these metrics was an afterthought. The financial incentive from CMS is much more compelling. That’s why all this data isn’t put to good use – just take a look at some examples.

  • Hospital Compare. It gives a whole lot of information: outcome metrics, process metrics, patient surveys.
  • Quality Check – is provided by the Joint Commission. It compares only accredited hospitals and how they’re doing on various quality measures.
  • visualization done by GE using data from the Joint Commission in 2009. Same kind of information as the others, but this is much simpler and looks pretty.

Is this really just information overload for the average patient? Is healthcare data inherently difficult to understand because it’s so specialized and specific (would I even know what I’m looking for to judge quality)? Is this even the kind of comparison or research one does when looking for specific care (say, if I needed a surgery)? Or would you get a referral from your doctor and go with that?


  1. It’s definitely a question of public awareness for me. I’ve never heard of these websites or these metrics nor have I ever considered whether or not hospitals publish such data.

    Granted, I’ve never had any serious medical problems, so that may be part of it.

    I wonder what Eric did when it came time to choose a hospital for Danielle. Did they look at data or just go with the geographically nearest hospital?

    • Yeah I think a major problem is that this information isn’t important until you really need it. Then you probably can’t find it. And afterward, you don’t need it anymore until your next medical problem.

      As a side note, labor and delivery in hospitals work pretty differently from what I’ve seen. Since it’s the one time you might actually want to be in a hospital and you have months to choose the hospital – those units offer tours and classes. Much more “sales-y” than if you needed surgery.

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