As part of an otherwise excellent presentation on the key drivers of rising healthcare costs, two slides purported to demonstrate that overbuilding of healthcare facilities was the result of inappropriate emphasis by patients on facilities’ cleanliness and convenience as measurements of quality. The presenter’s point was that patients could not be trusted to assess healthcare quality since they chose such obviously silly metrics instead of judging and selecting hospitals or physician practices on the basis of cost, outcomes, or adherence to guidelines.
I had several thoughts in reaction, a few of which I can print – (1) With upwards of 2 million nosocomial (my favorite word) infections a year causing more that 100,000 deaths and complications, cleanliness is nothing to sneeze at; (2) in a past life I was taken to task by the HRSA administrator for making the point that there might be value in having the choice of a transplant center close enough that families could support their loved one through a traumatic life event so I won’t comment here on the issue of proximity; but most importantly (3) patients judge what they can see. If we make quality metrics such as cost, outcomes, and adherence to guidelines more accessible to patients then they will include those metrics in their decisionmaking.
And so I embarked on my own journey to see how readily available patient-friendly quality data is for patients. First I looked for information on hospital information. Hospital Compare http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov/, an HHS website powered by Medicare data, allowed me to compare hospitals within a radius of my chosen zipcode on process of care (basically guidelines/evidence) adherence, outcomes like death, and patient satisfaction elements like physician communication or nurse responsiveness. Interestingly, among the subset of local hospitals I chose, quality was similar but median Medicare payment ranged from a two to four fold difference. Still a limited set of procedures and conditions are included, I have no idea how patients with my demographics and characteristics fared, and the Medicare cost data may bear little relation to what I might actually pay under my insurance let alone self-pay.
Physician information is available in a variety of formats for various fees, typically $9.95 to $24.95 on websites such as HealthGrades http://www.healthgrades.com and Physician Reports http://www.physicianreports.com or compiled in the Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Top Doctors or Castle Connolly’s various city-specific Top Doctors. Plugging in one of my specialist’s name I was able to get disciplinary actions (luckily none), board certifications, years of education, hospital affiliations and even ease of scheduling, however I had no idea from the information provided if my doctor was any good.
Lastly my health insurer has a premium designation that awards stars for quality and cost-efficiency. I could not find the basis for those designations and having been ill-served by one of their “centers of excellence” in a particular specialty, you can color me skeptical.
My takeaway is that even for a highly motivated, insured, internet savvy patient, with fair familiarity with health care and health care jargon, comprehensive actionable physician and facility information is limited, hard to find or non-existent.