Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can’t Compare: Will Consumers Really Use Data About Hospitals to Make Choices?

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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.

What is a “best” hospital? How to choose the right hospital for you.

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    The difference between information vs. physical therapy is its cost and availability: information is so plentiful and cheap we feel awash in it. What’s the same, though, is the fatigue factor associated with both;-)

  2. Posted September 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I wish that more folks would Comment directly on this BLOG as I truly believe that you are expertly framing issues of interest to many.
    Anyway, as a post script to my previous post, I’d simply add that health-related information may be even more exhausting than exhaustive. In other words, in the post-Google era, what may be even more important than quality content is context. Most folks are only interested in instantly seeing the information of instant relevance to them

  3. Leigh Hamby
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    As a health system administrator, we have patients call our infection control department directly asking about infection rates in our hospitals. That was part of our decision to post those on our hospital’s public website. The hit rate is lower than we expected however.

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  1. [...] few weeks ago, Ed Lovern published a post on his great blog asking, “will consumers really use data about hospitals to make choices?”  Ed [...]

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“Hi, I’m Ed Lovern, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. I created this blog to share my thoughts on the healthcare revolution and how we can all be part of the solution. Feel free to comment or email me your thoughts – I would love to have your contributions and feedback.”
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