With an increasing number of people using the Internet to find information about hospitals and physicians, organizations must ensure the data they provide are accurate, timely and measurable by defined standards, according to surgeons who conducted research into hospital-comparison Web sites.
Some 113 million Americans searched for health information in 2006; of those, 29% searched for information on specific hospitals and physicians. With those numbers expected to increase, the accuracy and timeliness of information is crucial for consumers trying to make informed choices, the researchers said.
Their study of six Web sites that offer hospital comparison information to consumers found those sites may give inconsistent results because they use different standards to measure and score quality. The research paper was published in the September issue of the Archives of Surgery, published by the American Medical Association.
The study was conducted by Michael Leonardi and colleagues at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, who reviewed a total of 846 Web sites before determining that six sites met requirements for accessibility, transparency and appropriateness of the quality criteria provided. Those six sites are provided by: the CMS, the Joint Commission, Leapfrog Group, and three unnamed private, for-profit organizations that operate proprietary sites.
Appropriateness was key because quality measurements that were procedure-specific and included relevant structural and outcome information give a more accurate picture to consumers, Leonardi said in an e-mail response.
The three private sites best compared multiple surgical procedures using appropriate measures, while the other three sites had better accessibility for consumers and data transparency, the researchers found.
Transparency and data-reporting initiatives have picked up steam in response to patients, payers and insurance providers who are demanding more quality and performance information from hospitals. States also are beginning to push legislation that hospitals report data, while some hospitals already post data on their own Web sites.
Leonardi said he was "encouraged" that hospitals want to present their data to consumers, but stressed the need for accurate and timely data to ensure that differing Web sites offered the same results across the board.
"When more uniform, high-quality, current data is available, the variation we see in these sites may decrease," he said.
Leonardi also stressed the importance of more participation by healthcare practitioners in creating quality data.
"I think surgeons should be involved in the process of transparency and quality reporting. The American College of Surgeons is leading the way on this front with (a quality-improvement program) that is available to private hospitals and surgeons to reliably collect, analyze and act on their timely risk-adjusted outcomes data with the goal of improving care locally and providing comparison data nationally," he said.
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