The CMS is asking stakeholders if hospitals should report quality information on their websites alongside retail charges.
Tucked within its 819-page Medicare Outpatient Prospective Payment System proposed rule this week, the CMS requested feedback on ways patients can have better access to quality data including the value of providers displaying information related to the volume and complication rates of procedures that would be listed alongside the retail charges hospitals are already required to show.
The agency said the input from stakeholders will "enhance our future efforts to improve policies related to transparency in healthcare charges."
Although the CMS already displays quality data on Hospital Compare and similar sites, it's unclear how often patients use them. Prices of procedures also aren't available.
The inquiry from the CMS supports research focused on healthcare transparency. While it is important for patients know their expected out-of-pocket costs, quality information also needs to be available because studies show a higher price tag doesn't mean better quality care.
"If you're going to display the estimated price of a shoppable healthcare service, you'd expect some reasonable indicator of the quality of that service," said François de Brantes, senior vice president at healthcare consultancy Remedy Partners.
The American Hospital Association was quick to blast the proposal in the same rule requiring hospitals to publish the negotiated price by specific payers.
"While we are reviewing the questions raised in the RFI, we note that CMS already requires hospitals to publicly report a large amount of quality performance data," the group said.
Hospitals will likely oppose potential requirements to display quality information, analysts said.
"I don't think there has ever been an instance where providers have been willing to jump on the bandwagon with respect to quality measures," said Lynn Quincy, director of the Healthcare Value Hub at Altarum. "They are proud of the work they do and they won't want increased reporting and administrative burden. I'd expect them to resist."
De Brantes said the agency may have to take a tough stand and require hospitals to display certain quality data despite opposition. "It has been 20 years of listening to the same refrain" from hospitals, he added.
Selecting the right measures to display to the public warrants more testing, Quincy said.
"We have under-invested in trying to display quality measures to patients," she said.
Research shows patients value bedside manner, respectful staff and cleanliness. Clinical data, which is also valuable, is often too hard for consumers to understand.
Simple web design could combat patient confusion and building the page shouldn't be too expensive since providers already collect and analyze the data, according to de Brantes. Consumers respond best to aggregate scores demonstrated through stars or check marks. Although hospitals would likely be against such displays considering their opposition to the CMS star ratings.
The agency also asked how it could help providers create patient-friendly interfaces with quality data; if it should develop questions for its hospital patient experience survey about how well hospitals discuss the cost of care and potential strategies to create standardized quality data.