Practitioners arent always to be found studying medicine from the consumers perspective, but John Santa, M.D., says he wouldnt want to be in any other position.
Santa, recently named director of Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, meshes his medical and research expertise to produce healthcare comparisons for the well-known consumer goods publications target audience.
The new center doesnt face an easy taskresearch shows consumers already arent using the various sources of hospital comparison information available, and Santa emphasizes that challenges exist in finding sources of credible, objective outside data that Consumer Reports analyzers can use to produce effective marks.
There also are two cultures in play in the new center: the medical culture of health practitioners and the consumer culture, which looks at health information from a different prospective, he says. I have to figure out how to add two or three dashes of medical culture, he added.
Consumer Reports, published by Consumers Union, is making a concerted effort to increase the amount of information it provides on healthcare and plans to add hospital and physician ratings to its mix of scored products and services. To do that in a way that builds on Consumer Reports reputation of providing objective, unbiased evidence-based research, the organization recognized it would have to hire someone free of ethical conflicts and who had the right skill set, according to Jim Guest, president of Consumer Union.
Santas more than 20 years of practicing medicine and conducting research made him the right man for the job, Guest says. We thought it was important to have a medical professional, he adds.
In addition to serving as a primary-care general internist in Portland, Ore., and for the Veterans Affairs Department in Washington, Santa spent 10 years in full-time administration, which included providing physician services to a startup HMO and leading medical affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oregon. He also led the Drug Effectiveness Review Project at the Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, which analyzed drug information to produce effectiveness and safety information for drugs in the same classes.
That work especially led Consumer Reports to Santa, Guest says. John really gets it from a patient and consumer point of view.
Using data from the 2008 Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, Consumer Reports ranks 2,878 hospitals on how aggressively they treat nine chronic conditionsthe number of diagnostic tests, doctor and specialty visits, and days spent in the hospital a person can expect at a facility if they suffer from conditions such as heart failure or chronic kidney failure.
The ranking is based on a scale from conservative to aggressive, and patients can compare hospitals by state and region. The organization also released an analysis of that aggressive treatment, claiming too much treatment does not necessarily mean patients are receiving better care, an argument also made by Dartmouth Atlas researchers.
The industry looks on the new rankings with cautious optimism. Consumer Reports ranking is another chance for patients to use information to make better healthcare decisions, according to Donna Lawson, vice president of quality at Baptist Health System, Birmingham, Ala. It's always good to provide patients meaningful information, she says.
But the subtle differences between patients needs present a challenge for any hospital trying to translate quality information into something consumers can use, she added. There are a lot of little nuances you have to consider when comparing general information.
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