With little choice in the matter, the home healthcare industry heartily greeted the release of data last week on the quality of home health agencies in eight states.
The release of quality information was the latest step in a broad ongoing effort by HHS and the Bush administration to provide more healthcare information to the public.
The data looking at 11 quality measures became available on Medicare's Web site, medicare.gov, and telephone hotline last week. Also, HHS took out ads with information about the data in 16 newspapers from the eight pilot states.
If there was any trepidation about the release of the information from within the industry, it was not apparent at the press conference announcing the release.
"With this new initiative, consumers will see that home care is an alternative to extended inpatient stays that offers a level of care that can bring people home from the hospital faster and even keep them from having to be rehospitalized," said Tom Connaughton, president and chief executive officer of the American Association for Homecare, Alexandria, Va.
The release of the information follows a similar unveiling of quality information about the nursing home industry last fall and a planned release of hospital and doctor data in the future. The intent, HHS officials said, is to provide tools for consumers to better compare the quality of healthcare in their area so they can make better healthcare decisions.
"These measures aren't good just for consumers," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "They're good for home health agencies." By improving and maintaining a level of quality, such agencies can build their businesses, he said.
Public interest in such data, said Thompson, is proved by the fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Web page containing the data on nursing homes has received more hits than any other page on the CMS' Web site.
For the home healthcare sector, the release of the data was seen as an opportunity to shine a light on an industry that often has existed in the shadows of nursing homes.
"It is time for the public to have reliable, meaningful data to help (them) make informed decisions, and it is time for home health providers and the government to come together to give the public that information," said William Minnix, president and CEO of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, Washington.
The eight states included in the initial phase of the program are Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Information about agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will follow in the fall.
The data look at quality measures including the percentage of patients who showed improvements in dressing themselves, the number of patients who needed to be admitted to a hospital and the number of patients who needed urgent unplanned medical care.