The CMS' release of comparative hospital quality data will not only empower consumers but is also likely to improve quality by changing hospital behavior, healthcare experts said.
The CMS formally released its first comparative hospital quality performance data on its new online consumer tool, Hospital Compare. The agency collected data voluntarily supplied by nearly 4,200 of the nation's acute-care hospitals.
"We're moving down a new road for our healthcare system," CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual meeting in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he unveiled the new Web site. "Empowering consumers is the start of a big change. This is a portal for all Americans, not just Medicare beneficiaries. It's information, not a list of America's top 100 hospitals."
McClellan said the site offers consumers, payers and other hospitals a tool with current, valid clinical data to compare hospital performance on 17 quality indicators. The initial data release compared performance for quality measures on three disease conditions for which patients are commonly hospitalized: pneumonia; myocardial infarction or heart attack; and heart failure. Consumers can search the Web site, hospitalcompare.hhs.gov, for hospitals by name or by location.
Participating hospitals, which represented 99%, or all but about 60 of the nation's acute-care hospitals, were rewarded for gathering the data with a 0.4% increase in their Medicare payment rates, totaling about $400 million.
Hospital Compare is a joint effort that began two years ago and was sponsored by the Hospital Quality Alliance, a public-private partnership that included the American Hospital Association, the CMS, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Medical Association, the AFL-CIO and a number of other consumer and quality organizations. In the early stages of its development, former CMS Administrator Tom Scully had threatened to make the initiative mandatory, but in the end it was crafted as a voluntary initiative with higher Medicare reimbursements offered as a reward for participation.
AHA President Richard Davidson, who appeared at the news conference, said hospitals will want to know how they stack up against their competition. "Everyone wants to be on top," he said.
Davidson and McClellan said the data will be updated quarterly and reported annually.
Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs for hospital quality ratings and consulting firm Health Grades, said the evidence-based process measures are useful.
"Knowledgeable consumers who will want this information now have a place to go," Collier said. "The larger effect will be on hospitals from purchaser and payer standpoints."
She said the next logical step involves releasing data on patient outcomes, something her company already does with payers and employers. "This is not going away. If hospitals haven't already embraced it they need to know that now they are not only being rated by Health Grades, but by the government as well and are being compared to their peers around the country."
William Roper, chief executive officer of the University of North Carolina Health Care System, said he began publishing hospital mortality statistics in 1986 when he was administrator of HCFA, now the CMS.
"Nineteen years later the government is publishing much more sophisticated and better measures of quality," he said.