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TRANSPARENCY: HHS Launches Hospital Compare Ad Campaign

May 21, 2008 - 11:46am

Via USA Today's Julie Appleby, we receive insight into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's (nearly) $2 million advertising campaign:

The ad campaign in 58 regional newspapers lists hospitals and their scores on two of more than 30 measures available on the web site: the percentage of patients getting antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection and whether patients "always" got help when they asked for it.

The government's campaign promoting the website by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) comes amid a flurry of efforts by states and the private sector to rate medical providers. The movement is fueled by demands from employers and consumer groups, including AARP and the Consumers Union, for more information about cost and quality.

I decided to have a little fun with the ratings and chose four hospitals to compare: George Washington University Hospital (near where I used to live), INOVA Alexandria Hospital (near where I live now), Baylor University Medical Center (flagship of the Baylor system which I blogged about last week), and St. Mary's Hospital/Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

I could focus on clinical measures in this blog post; for example, why are only 33% of INOVA Alexandria heart failure patients given discharge instructions? That is not good—yet they score perfectly (100%) on giving heart attack patients aspirin when they leave, which they should be lauded for.

But rather that address that in-depth, I want to focus on the "Survey of Patients' Hospital Experiences." But Tom, you ask, isn't that, you know, fluffy? Fluff stuff? No, it's not. The Institute of Medicine, in their 2001 treatise Crossing the Quality Chasm, decreed Six Aims for Improvement that will enable high-quality care. The IOM writes that health care should be safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable. As you can see, no. 3 is very important. It has been elevated to Commandment level.

"Survey of Patients' Hospital Experiences" lists ten items, including the "help" question mentioned in the HHS ad above, whether their pain was always well controlled, whether doctors and nurses communicated effectively, and what they should do to recover when they return home. (Remember, if they don't understand, if no one explains it clearly to them, they may get sick again and end up right back in the hospital.) I averaged the ten scores for the four hospitals to get a composite patient experience score. Here are the results:

GW 59.2%
INOVA Alexandria 63.9%
Baylor 72.5%
Mayo 76%

There you go—for all my picking on INOVA Alexandria, they prove to be more patient-centered than the other DC-area hospital I looked at, GW. But Baylor and Mayo both proved to be better in this category. This is not a major surprise, as both have made a strong commitment to be patient-centered.

While you can't please all the people all of the time, patient-centeredness measures are a good indicator of whether clinicians are communicating effectively with patients and that they feel cared for. It's a vital component of healing.

For further reading on getting carried away with patient centeredness (in a good way), see my post about Seattle's Virginia Mason.