Jul 23, 2010 (08:07 PM EDT)
Healthcare.gov Adds Hospital Comparison Data

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

Barely a week after launching HealthCare.gov, the first website to provide a central database of health coverage options and other comparative healthcare statistics, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that new information about the quality of care in America's outpatient and emergency departments has been posted to the new website.

The new data, which can be found at the Compare Care Quality link on the front page of HealthCare.gov, includes information on how well hospitals care for patients with heart attacks, compares how hospitals protect outpatients from surgical infections, and examines how efficiently facilities use certain types of imaging equipment among Medicare patients.

The data is taken from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Hospital Compare Tool, which evaluates outpatient care and inpatient mortality and readmissions at more than 4,700 hospitals across the nation.

Also on Wednesday, YouTube and WebMD partnered with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to further promote the site during a live online event at the White House that was moderated by WebMD's Kristy Hammam. During the event, Sebelius answered questions that addressed healthcare access, quality of care and cost issues. She also reminded the public that in October the site will lists price estimates on health plans, which should provide helpful information as consumers make decisions to suite their healthcare needs.

"I know from experience that putting prices side by side is often a good strategy for competition. Companies don't like to be the most expensive plan in the market," Sebelius said.

HealthCare.gov is the first website to provide a central database of health coverage options, combining information about public programs like Medicare and the newly launched Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan, with information from more than 1,000 private insurance plans. As visitors browse the site, they are encouraged to click on yellow boxes where they can leave messages for the team at HHS telling them whether a page was helpful or not and how it could improve.

Addressing the addition of CMS' Hospital Compare Tool, to the HealthCare.gov site, Sebelius released a statement saying the more information consumers and patients have, the better the options and choices are for them when it comes to their health care.

In her statement, the secretary also said:

"HealthCare.gov is designed to put the power of information at the fingertips of Americans and our quality compare tools are a critical part of this new website. This new update to CMS' Hospital Compare feature will help patients and their families better compare quality at America's hospitals. And thanks to this new update this year, for the first time, Medicare patients can see how efficiently facilities use certain types of imaging equipment and keep them safe from exposure to potentially harmful radiation that may not be necessary."

The updated information on HealthCare.gov's Hospital Compare includes data on the rates of outpatient MRIs for low back pain, outpatient re-tests after a screening mammogram, as well as two ratios that explain how frequently outpatient departments gave patients "double" computed tomography (CT) scans when a single scan may be all that is needed. Hospital Compare also includes new measures that show whether outpatients who are treated for suspected heart attacks receive proven therapies that reduce mortality such as an aspirin at arrival, and how well outpatient surgical patients are protected from infection. Previously, Hospital Compare had provided data only about the quality of care provided to hospital inpatients.

"By reporting data on services provided in hospital settings like imaging on Hospital Compare, we can highlight the importance of this issue for patients and their families," Marilyn Tavenner, acting CMS administrator, said in a statement. "For some time, Medicare beneficiaries have had access to reasonable and necessary imaging technologies, which have revolutionized how well doctors and patients diagnose and treat a host of diseases. But by adding information to the website today, we can help patients and their families to understand the risks associated with these technologies and talk with their doctors about which hospitals are most likely to help patients reduce those risks."

On average, 1 in 3 Medicare beneficiaries receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their lower back when they complain of pain, rather than trying more recommended, and potentially safer treatment first, such as physical therapy.

In addition to outpatient care measures, CMS has updated data for outcomes of inpatient hospital care. The new information on HealthCare.gov includes updates on new thirty-day mortality rates and thirty-day readmissions rates for inpatients admitted with heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia. These rates encompass three full years of claims data (from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2009).

According to HHS, the HealthCare.gov Hospital Compare tool will show whether a hospital's mortality or readmissions rate is "Better than," "No different from," or "Worse than" the U.S. national rate. This information includes each hospital's risk-standardized mortality rate (RSMR), an estimate of the rate's certainty (also known as the interval estimate), and the number of eligible cases for each hospital.

Officials at HHS also note that by posting hospital RSMRs, interval estimates, and the number of eligible cases, CMS is giving consumers additional insight into the performance of their local hospitals in hopes that this will prompt all hospitals to work toward achieving the level of the top-performing hospitals in the country.