A just-published study funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and presented in the March issue of Health Affairs, confirms what has long been believed by industry experts and many in the trenches: that, when given the right mix of quality and cost information, healthcare consumers will select high-value providers from whom to receive care. Interestingly, it also finds that, given cost-only information consumers will choose the more expensive option. The study, entitled “An Experiment Shows That a Well-Designed Report on Costs and Quality Can Help Consumers Choose High-Value Health Care,” involved a team of researchers led by Judith H. Hibbard., Dr.P.H., at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Dr. Hibbard and her team studied 1,400 employees in a randomized experiment to find out how they responded to different presentations of quality and cost information.
When providers were clearly identified as high-quality, cost had less influence on consumers’ decisions, and consumers were more likely to choose a provider with lower cost, but better quality than a high-cost provider. In a press release on the publication of the study, Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., AHRQ’s director, said in a statement that “This study has important implications for the more than 150 public reports on physician and hospital care. It’s not simply a question of providing information on cost,” she added, “but providing it in a way that is integrated with quality scores.”
You can bet your bottom dollar that purchasers—both government and private—will be paying attention to the results of this study, and any similar ones that come along in the near future. Why? Because it not only confirms, in a common-sense way, what has already been strongly suspected in the industry about the use of information, but also refines certain elements of our understanding.
As AHRQ’s press release notes, “The study’s findings have implications for the design of public report cards that offer consumers information on the quality and cost of healthcare providers. Although report producers have been adopting strategies to help consumers process and use comparative information on quality and cost, many reporting websites still use overly technical information or present other barriers to easy comprehension, according to the study.”
For CIOs, CMIOs and other healthcare IT leaders helping to lead the architecting of quality data reporting initiatives in their organizations, the findings of this study should also reinforce what industry experts have long been saying about improving transparency across the board when it comes to the cost and quality data that patient care organizations are making or could make public.
I’m particularly fascinated by the crosswalks between and among different data-related areas in healthcare. For example, there’s the need to create strong data warehouses to support the meaningful use process; there’s the need to build the data foundations of accountable care organizations; there’s the need to create a strong clinical IT foundation for the patient-centered medical home; and of course, there’s an urgent need to build data collection, analysis, and reporting systems for participation in the mandatory value-based purchasing program under Medicare, as required under the Affordable Care Act. All of these needs intersect, and all will require top-flight information systems and data management processes in order for providers to succeed in these diverse but critical areas.
We’ll be talking about data warehouses and the MU process, the data foundations for accountable care, and clinical IT foundations for the patient-centered medical home, at the Healthcare Informatics Executive Summit, to be held May 6-8 at the Marriott Orlando World Center Resort in Orlando.
It will personally be very exciting for me to participate in panel discussions with true industry leaders like George Reynolds, Rick Schooler, Jeffrey Rose, M.D., Larry Holly, M.D., and Ferdinand Velasco, M.D., and others, all individuals who are helping to lead their organizations into the healthcare of the future. I think it will be a not-to-be-missed event.
In the meantime, the results of the recent AHRQ study add yet one more brick to the foundation of a very large and important edifice, and that is the creation of a broad consensus around accountability, transparency, quality, and value that will ultimately fully bring consumers into the equation along with purchasers, payers, and providers, as healthcare moves towards a transparency that has never existed before. The bottom line? The days of hiding behind a shroud of non-information are over. The question is, is your organization ready to take on the challenges and opportunities implied in the findings of this new study?