January 23, 2013 Back to All Blogs

Red-Carpet Premieres and Animated Reviews for Health Care Public Reporting


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If 2012 was the year of measurement and transparency in health care, 2013 and beyond must be the time of blockbuster public reporting on health care performance. Think red-carpet premieres and animated reviews:

“The heart bypass surgery ratings and risk calculator is simply riveting!”
“An engrossing report card on the best hospitals for delivering babies!”
“Must see ratings of diabetes care!”

What may sound like a stretch, is nothing short of imperative. With health care costs at unsustainable levels and dramatic variation in the quality of care, payers and patients need actionable information. Technology can get us there, but only if we listen to consumers and make the public reporting of health care performance useful to them.

There are innovations in health care public reporting we can learn from:

  • Nationally, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) and Consumer Reports published ratings for hundreds of surgical groups across the country that perform heart bypass surgery. The STS database contains more than 4 million patient records. The familiar 5-point Consumer Report scale is the product of 11 different performance measures and a formula to ensure comparability.
  • Through support from the Robert Wood Johnson’s Aligning Forces for Quality initiative Consumer Reports and Massachusetts Health Quality Partners joined forces to publish ratings of nearly 500 primary care physician groups in Massachusetts. Patients and their families can use the information to make more informed choices about where to get care. Doctors and their care teams can use the information to compare performance and identify areas for improvement.
  • Wisconsin and Minnesota also have AF4Q-supported public reporting partnerships with Consumer Reports. The October issue of Consumer Reports included a special insert featuring Minnesota Community Measurement’s (MNCM) public reporting project that includes patient results from 552 Minnesota physician group practices treating cardiovascular disease and diabetes – two of the deadliest chronic diseases. The Wisconsin’s special edition of Consumer Reports provides information on 19 provider-groups statewide. Combined, these groups provide care to nearly half of the state’s population.
  • The Puget Sound Health Alliance Community Check Up in Washington state – also an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Aligning Forces for Quality communities — compares medical groups, clinics and hospitals and recently added the views of patients.
  • Leap Frog, a health quality nonprofit, issues a report giving hospitals a letter grade for patient safety. The grade is based on 26 different proven steps to prevent errors and infections.

While each of these initiatives is outstanding and continues to improve, we cannot take a ‘field of dreams’ approach. The success of the new federal health care law rests in part on the light and heat of public reporting creating marketplace pressures that improve quality and reduce costs. If consumers aren’t flocking to healthcare performance report cards will marketplace pressures work to reward more effective and affordable care?  Will health insurance plans have incentive to encourage patients to seek care from providers with good track records? Pennsylvania employers and consumers have a rich store of comparative performance data generated by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, or PHC4. At last week’s Clinton Foundation Health Matters 2013 conference, President Bill Clinton encouraged all states to learn from the Keystone state’s health care public reporting efforts.

RWJF Quality/Equality team director Anne Weiss discussed some key lessons learned in health care public reporting in a recent Health Affairs blogpost. The Agency for Health care Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Center for Science in Public Reporting is funding several research efforts into just what kind of information and presentation gets consumers interested and engaged.

AHRQ is also expanding and redesigning MONAHRQ® (My Own Network powered by AHRQ) — a downloadable website builder tool developed to help organizations create their own health care performance reporting websites.

To ensure the redesigned MONAHRQ reaches more consumers with information they can use, the initiative will include the input of a committee of top experts in health care and public reporting.  The key will be to retain the rigor and science that make measures valid and trustworthy, while figuring out how to present information in a format that means something and gets used.

A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that when working with and making meaning out of big data sets, an understanding of human behavior and thinking is required to ensure websites that report health care performance information are effective. To often IT professionals focus too much on the “T” and not enough on the “I.”

The imperative to improve public reporting of health care performance is clear. As more states and other large employers struggle to expand coverage with strained budgets, quality and cost comparisons give them more leverage. As more patients buy high-deductible health insurance plans and pay more of their own money for medical care, report cards comparing health care performance is increasingly important.

The result of the MONAHRQ enterprise will be a wholly redesigned web platform that reflects the latest best practices in public reporting and a greater customization of a much larger set of health care performance measures from an array of specialties and covering areas that consumers find the most useful.

Reporting on health care performance must evolve from an internal quality improvement enterprise to the kind of information consumers consult as readily as movie and restaurant ratings.

* Also check out:
What do we know about health care public reporting? Not enough.
Health care data’s tipping point
Five trends that show the digital health revolution’s potential to improve quality and cost
Red carpet premieres and animated reviews for health care public reporting

Mark Tobias (@PanthTech) is president of Pantheon, which combines technology expertise and a deep knowledge of health care, education, and social impact markets to provide online technology solutions for nonprofits, associations, and government.