Virginia consumers trying to decide which hospitals to use now have a new online tool to evaluate and compare how the facilities treat patients with heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia.
Starting this month, consumers can compare 17 indicators that show how often hospitals provide certain recommended care practices that are widely accepted as standards for good care.
The Hospital Compare Web site was established by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the Hospital Quality Alliance, a public-private group.
Participation in the program is voluntary, but all of Virginia’s hospitals agreed to provide the information.
Hospital Compare is the third component in a health-quality initiative the federal governent launched in 2002, starting with online data for nursing homes. Those were followed by measures on home-health-care agencies in 2003.
Sallie Cook, chief medical officer for the Virginia Health Quality Center, said Virginia ranked above the national average on most indicators, but there was much variety among individual hospitals. The Virginia center works under contract for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to track the data and help hospitals in the state improve their care.
Dr. Thomas Thames, vice president and chief medical officer for Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System, said that the Hospital Compare initiative has already led that hospital system to make improvements. For instance, all of its patients now receive smoking cessation information, which is one of the quality-of-care indicators.
Dr. David Levin, vice president of medical affairs at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, said Sentara Healthcare, the parent organization for six hospitals in Hampton Roads, also is keeping a close eye on the numbers. He said Sentara strongly supports the idea of increasing consumer access to hospital information.
“Public reporting does help drive quality improvement,” he said.
He cautioned, though, that patients should use the information in conjunction with data from other agencies and also in consultation with health-care providers. He said health consumers need to be aware the data included was from a small window of time, from three to six months in early 2004.
Also, best practices change over time, so patients need to be aware that measures may change.
“Quality improvement is a moving target,” he said.
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