Thursday, May 24, 2007

Transparency Growing Up

When we discuss transparency in health care (and/or health insurance), we often focus exclusively on the costs (in dollars) of a given procedure or treatment. Sometimes, as with HealthcareFacts, other information (such as outcomes, complications, etc) are available. The challenge is finding non-insurance sources for this information.
Well, for one thing, a lot of folks are (understandably) reluctant to trust health insurance companies when it comes to their health care. For another, a lot of these are proprietary systems, so they may be of lesser value to those not insured by a given carrier.
The good news, according to USA Today, is that more and more providers are now making more and more information available.
What kinds of information?
"Click on the "Quality Reports" tab at the top of the virtual file drawer and look up coronary artery bypass graft surgery. You'll learn that the hospital's death rate is 2.3%, a shade below the national average of 2.5%. The length of stay is 7.2 days, a tenth of a day longer than the national average, and the charges will total about $75,000, roughly $49,000 for the hospital and $26,000 for doctors."
And that's just for one hospital!
And various states are getting into the act, as well; California's HealthCare Foundation (in partnership with a number of related entities) has a web portal one can use to rate a given hospital's quality of care. The Ohio Hospital Association maintains a website where one can search for specific facilities, or by geographic area, for outcomes and charges. Even Georgia's hospital association has a web presence, where one can compare facilities, costs and quality.
The Fed's have also been busy in this arena: Medicare's website boasts a number of search tools, among which is "Hospital Compare," which enables beneficiaries to identify how well a given hospital is performing. Costs and quality measurements are both available, and one can even print off a handy hospital check list of questions to ask before care is rendered.
It's encouraging to see these tools becoming more sophisticated and available to us consumers. As consumercentric health insurance plans continue to evolve, these kinds of tools are becoming more critical. Timing is everything.
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