Friday, May 23, 2008

Transparency: The Government Angle

One of the big issues with American health care is the lack of ability to compare prices and care quality between care providers. As many people step forward in favor of market driven solutions -- a very good idea in many respects -- this sort of information is crucial to making informed decisions about said market. As a matter of fact many of the posts in our archives here on the blog are concerned with efforts to create this sort of transparency. Now the federal government, in the form of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is embracing that stance.

Cherie Black over at the SeattlePI takes a look:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is running ads in both Seattle daily newspapers Wednesday showing consumers how to compare services and quality of care in area hospitals by using a new Web site.

The ads, which are running in more than 50 other newspapers across the country, promote Hospital Compare (, a Web site that scores 26 quality and patient satisfaction measures at nearly 4,000 hospitals nationwide.

This should be an interesting website launch to follow. The media blitz should get them a lot of traffic, and I am sure that soon there will be a lot of commentary floating around the net.

Using metrics like price of procedure, volume (how many of a single procedure are performed), percentage of patients who received anitbiotics an hour before surgery, and how many patients received help when they asked for it the site seems to cover a lot of ground. It is exactly this sort of information which can help create the informed market needed for a free market solution to gain traction.

More transparency in health care is a good thing, said Dr. Ed Walker, medical director at the University of Washington Medical Center, and this site shows how physicians are having more open conversations about errors and prevention.

"I bought my last car by going to Consumer Reports and looking at the comparisons," Walker said. "We have a populous who expects us to be like Consumer Reports, and while that may be a bit ahead of our time, we still have a good balance."

Indeed. This is the 21st Century, people are accustomed to being able to look up anything by simply spending a moment at their keyboard. Instant gratification is something that Americans have always had a penchant for. Google and the Internet have brought that attitude to the world of information and people are becoming highly dissatisfied with the delays endemic to almost any interaction with our health care system. In that respect this is a good thing.
But Walker cautioned consumers to realize that no one measure defines a hospital, and some measures can be imprecise. For example, some measures, such as whether patient received antibiotics before a surgery, are easily defined -- there's a surgery checklist to consult or an empty bottle from the pharmacy as evidence. How long a patient had to wait to see a nurse after he or she was called is more subjective.

"How soon a nurse responded is influenced by a lot of things, including how many patients they have at one time," Walker said. "They weigh the needs of the patients simultaneously -- but we should aspire. These are our patients telling us how we're doing, and we should listen to that."

All in all, I expect this to be a major move forward. Only time will show how well they are able to implement and manage this service, but more transparency and more available information are always good things!

SOURCE: "New Web site compares hospital care: Services, costs and patient satisfaction are all measured" 05/21/08
photo courtesy of edans, used under its Creative Commons license

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