AHRQ calls for improvement in quality reporting sites

By Mary Mosquera
10:14 AM

A new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) contends that consumers and care providers don't make use enough use of public reporting websites about hospital quality -- partly because they don't know about them, and partly because the language is too technical.

The reporting sites relied, for the most part, on search, referral or links and direct knowledge to generate traffic. Instead, healthcare organizations need to do a better job with outreach and partnerships to market the sites, and need to use less technical language, the agency said in the study, released Dec. 21.

[See also: Quality reporting an essential piece of IT equation.]

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The report offers a snapshot of who visits these sites and how they use the information, focusing on consumers and healthcare professionals, the primary target audiences.

“For most sites, improving search is the biggest opportunity for increasing traffic,” such as tagging hospital or clinic names and other content on the website so that it is more easily recognized by search engines, the report said.

AHRQ worked with 16 hospital reporting sites affiliated with the agency’s Chartered Value Exchanges, which are collaboratives of health plans, payers, providers and consumers around value-driven health care, over three months in early 2011 and received responses from 1,034 individuals to the survey to support the report, “Users of Public Reports of Hospital Quality: Who, What, Why, and How?”

[See also: AHRQ awards $10.7 million contract for Web site work.]

The websites need to make it easier to get to and use the data and more choices how to display it, such as in comparing specific hospitals side by side, the report said. In addition to separate measures and scores, site visitors should be able to sort hospitals by performance and composite scores.

About half of consumers who responded to the survey said that they use the quality reports to select hospitals, AHRQ said. Visual labels and icons can help consumers interpret differences in performance, and plain language with three or four elements can assist in their understanding of quality.

Few consumers are coming to the Web sites primarily for information on cost of care or for education about their disease. However, visitors are interested in performance measures about heart disease care and surgery.

The reporting website sponsors should also identify methods to reach out to consumers enrolled in Medicaid, few of whom visited the sites, and to those who are underserved in racial, ethnic and lower economic populations, AHRQ said.

States and community quality collaborative organizations have spent millions of dollars in the development of public reports on the quality of local and regional hospital care. They were designed in hopes that providers and consumers will use them to stimulate quality improvement, increase accountability and improve choices for treatment.

The websites should periodically conduct online analytics and consider redesign to improve functionality and visitor engagement, the report said

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