January 17, 2013 Back to All Blogs

What do we know about health care public reporting? Not enough.


health ratings
A new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, shows that 81 percent of US adults use the Internet; 59 percent of them report looking online for health information in the past year.

The Pew data shows that while more people are going online to sift through possible diagnoses for their maladies, the percentage of people who have consulted online reviews of hospitals, doctors, drugs and medical treatments has remained steady or declined slightly.

Pew chart

The Pew Internet research project has found consumer reviews of other services and products are increasingly important — why not health care?

Those of us who believe that the light of health care public reporting has the potential to increase quality and reduce costs should care a lot about this question.

Speaking at this week’s Clinton Foundation Health Matters 2013 conference, President Clinton held up Pennsylvania’s public reporting of health care costs and quality as a model that others should follow to figure out what drives cost and quality and what can be done about it. The new health care law’s health insurance exchanges are built on the premise that wise shoppers will reward insurance plans that provide affordable, effective care.

Center for American Progress’ Don Berwick responded to Clinton, saying that it is past time for Medicaid to share its price and quality data and exhorted private hospitals and insurers: “let’s leap over our shadows on this one and get the data together. Yea it’s a little scary, but we’ll learn a lot.”

Access to the right data is huge, but so is how it is presented in a world accustomed to the simplicity and ease of Yelp and Consumer Reports. A 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey found that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That is quite a distance from where we are in the trust in and use of health care public reporting.

We just don’t know enough about how to make public reporting of health care data popular and truly useful for consumers. We risk a crisis of consumer confidence if we don’t make some improvements and get it right.

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 in their health care.

Next week Panthink will share some best practices in health care public reporting from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) communities and how the redesign of a downloadable website builder tool will help more organizations create their own health care performance reporting websites.

* Also check out:
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.