Perhaps you can lead a consumer to comparison data but you can’t always make him drink, or think.
An article in the New York Times recently suggested that many of us suffer from decision fatigue. In a world where we have more and more choices, we are physiologically capable of making only so many decisions. When too much information is thrown at us, sometimes we just shut down.
Now in its sixth year, CMS’ HospitalCompare.gov has evolved into a treasure chest of healthcare provider-specific statistics for consumers. Want to compare three metro Atlanta hospitals on mortality rates for heart disease? Easy. Want to compare the same hospital on overall patient satisfaction? No problem.
The amount of hospital quality data and the ease with which you can compare how hospitals match up is comparable to Consumer Reports (except there is no price data). As a long-time interested observer of publicly reported hospital quality data, I think the site is extraordinary.
But, I wonder…do people use it?
“I wonder that, too,” says Michaeleen Crowell, a legislative assistant who specializes in healthcare issues for U.S. Rep. John Lewis. She offered to contact the U.S. House Ways and Means committee staff, which oversees Medicare spending, saying that it would be good information to know.
“Have you ever had a patient ask you about something they found on HospitalCompare.gov?” I asked my internist Dr. William McClatchey.
He is a very tech savvy physician who has practiced for more than 30 years and has about 9,000 patients. “Never, not once,” he said.
It is hard to imagine that the use of such a data source wouldn’t spark questions that patients would want to ask their physician, the person they trust most for input on these issues.
I called others—GMCF, the state-based organization charged with helping people use Medicare and the Center for Medical Consumers—and got essentially same response. Nobody could tell me if HospitalCompare.gov is really used by consumers.
I even called CMS. Could they tell me about activity on the site? How much is it used? They politely said they would have someone call me back, but never did.
Healthcare consultant Nate Kaufman said that HospitalCompare.gov is relevant because the media uses it. And they do, but they tend to use it in a sensationalistic way, and they sometimes get it wrong.
USA Today and NBC Atlanta Channel 11 ran a two-part story earlier this month that credited six local hospitals (including Piedmont Hospital) for having mortality rates below the national average. But a separate story identified two hospitals – Northside Hospital and Atlanta Medical Center – with mortality rates above the national average.
Later, after Northside apparently explained the findings, Channel 11 clarified that the hospital’s mortality rate was actually not statistically worse than national average. This fact was available and clearly stated on HospitalCompare.gov all the time. Not that anybody was looking.