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Government & Policy

U.S. web site compares hospital-care quality

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Medicare and Medicaid program, which manages care  for seniors and low-income individuals, has launched a web site that enables consumers to compare the quality of care among 4,200 hospitals. The site can be accessed at

Initially, consumers will be able to research hospital quality information on 17 measures for three common medical conditions – heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.

For example, the Web site will indicate how often a hospital caregiver provided a heart attack patient with aspirin, ACE inhibitors and/or beta blockers, and explain why they are essential steps in the patient’s care. The national averages are shown, and consumers can compare hospitals against each other on a regional, state and national basis.

Currently, the site doesn’t track outcomes such as mortality rates among heart attack patients, or surgical patients, at various hospitals. New conditions and measures are to be added in the future.

The U.S. government and other organizations in the United States collect many types of hospital and healthcare data, but most of it is not made public. There have been persistent calls to publicize the data in recent years, so that consumers can make better choices about their healthcare.

In an April 1, 2005 article about the launch of Hospital Compare, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that consumers have a wealth of objective information about buying a car or TV set available to them, but scarcely any about hospitals, physicians or surgeons.

As a result, making wise choices about where to go for care becomes difficult. Things appear to be changing, albeit slowly.

“I think all of our hospitals realize that it’s a whole new world,” said Dick Davidson (pictured at left), president of the American Hospital Association. “If you appear to conceal information, or are reluctant to share it, it gives the impression that you must have something to hide.”

Hospital Compare is the result the cooperation of the Hospital Quality Alliance, a landmark public-private partnership of hospitals, government agencies, quality experts, purchasers, consumer groups and other healthcare organizations.

The site is the first step in the Hospital Quality Alliance’s efforts to collect and share quality of care information with the public in a consistent, unified way.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark McClellan, American Hospital Association President Dick Davidson and AFL-CIO Director of Governmental Affairs Gerry Shea unveiled the Web site on behalf of all members of the Hospital Quality Alliance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, all but about 60 of the nation’s 4,200 general hospitals are voluntarily turning over data for the Hospital Compare site. More than two years ago, representatives of the hospital association, government agencies and many other public and private groups together worked out an approach to reporting the data.

But many of the hospitals held back until 2003. At that time, Congress offered a financial incentive, amounting to a 0.4 percent payment boost for participating. That was enough for most of the centres to start sending data.

In an official news release, Hospital Quality Alliance members praised Hospital Compare as an important resource for patients, hospitals and communities to improve the quality of care.

Chip Kahn, President of the Federation of American Hospitals, said: “This new consumer-friendly website marks a major milestone for the public and for health care providers because it allows people for the first time to go on-line to compare how well hospitals perform on standards of care for three of the most common and costly conditions for hospitalization: heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia. These three conditions are just the first step toward building a comprehensive website that will allow the public to compare hospitals on a number of important measures of patient care.”

Jordan J. Cohen, M.D., President of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said: “Hospital Compare is a significant milestone in national efforts to improve healthcare quality and an important demonstration of hospitals’ commitment to be publicly accountable for the patient care services they provide. For teaching hospitals in particular, participation in this national effort helps to integrate healthcare quality into the educational process. This is extremely important as these hospitals train the physicians of tomorrow to provide safe, effective, and complex care to some of the nation’s sickest patients.”

Kenneth W. Kizer, MD, MPH, President and CEO of the National Quality Forum, said: “Today’s debut of Hospital Compare represents a step forward for American healthcare quality improvement. The public will now have access to standardized performance measurement data for nearly 4,000 acute care hospitals, allowing apples-to-apples comparison of some types of hospital care. In addition, since public reporting of performance data can be a powerful motivator for change, Hospital Compare will likely serve as a catalyst for hospitals to do better.”

Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said: “Hospital Compare is an important step in improving the quality of healthcare in America. The data will help consumers make more informed decisions about hospital care and will give hospitals the data they need to ensure that they are providing high-quality care.”

Lawrence A. McAndrews, president and CEO of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions, said” Hospital Compare is an important step forward in providing health care consumers and purchasers with information to assist them to choose wisely and to foster accountability, transparency and improvement. Children’s hospitals are proud to be a part of the Hospital Quality Alliance. We look forward to incorporating more measures over time, including ones that are applicable to the care provided to children and adolescents.”

Linda J. Stierle, MSN, RN, CNAA, BC, CEO, American Nurses Association, commented: “Hospital Compare will provide nurses with quality tools and information they need to support them in their day-to-day work with patients, and it also will drive system changes that improve nurses’ ability to deliver quality care. As a result, the quality of patient care will improve, and nurses will experience higher job satisfaction. It’s important and exciting work.”

Gerry Shea, Director of Governmental Affairs for the AFL-CIO, said: “The launch of Hospital Compare is an enormous step forward in terms of consumers getting the information they need to make their health decisions and to forge a working care partnership with their physicians. For consumers, information is power. And in this case, that power will lead to more educated consumers and healthier lives.”