"Informed Consumers Will Make Better Choices" by Michael V. Sack

This article is more than 13 years old.

Massachusetts hospitals, with the leadership of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, are committed to giving the public useful information that can be used to assess and to compare hospital quality. Voluntary initiatives like Patients First: Hospitals Continuing Commitment to Safe Patient Care, not only help patients become better informed about their care, it also allows hospitals to learn from each other how to improve that care. The State is also targeting health care quality. Two new initiatives are on the table: The Department of Public Health recently issued a report recommending the collection of statewide data to gauge how hospitals compare when it comes to certain infections acquired in the hospital, and the Health Care Quality and Cost Council, a state agency created by the health reform law, is developing a website to allow consumers to compare hospitals and physicians on cost and quality. However, these don’t even scratch the surface of all the organizations that require hospitals to collect and report their data. While the open review of quality and safety performance in hospitals is encouraged, there is a concern.

The concern is that each organization wanting to help develops its own standards and reporting expectations, which can create additional cost and inconsistency for hospitals already struggling with extensive reporting requirements. When I ask our Quality Performance Department to participate in another organization’s quality metric program, they groan and ask what we can drop. And in many cases, it is the same information, just requested in a different format.

In order to truly make this work though, we need a “common framework” for reporting as proposed by the hospital association. Everyone; providers, payers, state, and national quality forums, should collaborate on a common set of quality measures. The uniform measures should be based upon scientific evidence and should be repeatable. They should apply to all institutions regardless of size or location. Differences that are not statistically meaningful should not be portrayed in a way that gives a patient a misleading picture of one provider compared to another. Transparency should also be applied to the payers and other organizations reporting this data. What is their methodology? The public and the providers have a right to know that up front.

Throughout my years of experience as a hospital Chief Executive Officer, I assure you the best way to encourage improvement is to create an environment where highly trained and experienced caregivers can learn from each other, where measuring and monitoring care is not used to penalize but to educate and inform, and rewards promote rapid adoption of practice.

Massachusetts continues to be at the forefront of public policy health care innovation, to be an early adopter of statewide information system implementation, and to have hospitals working together to improve and to encourage consumer transparency. It is time for all of us to share expectations and results with our patients. The trust and confidence encouraged by accessing relevant, comparable information will establish a strong foundation for decision making in personal care. Isn’t that what we hope to achieve by making Massachusetts health care accessible and affordable to all?

Informed consumers will make better choices.

Michael V. Sack
President and CEO, Hallmark Health

This program aired on August 17, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.