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Watch for This New Ranking

August 21, 2008
by Mark Hagland
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As the Wall Street Journal reported a couple of months ago, the non-profit Consumers Union is about to launch a new hospital-ratings service. Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, already offers assessments of health insurance plans, drugs, and some medical treatments. The WSJ reported that CU is considering rating physician groups and long-term care.

In the meantime, the newspaper reported recently, Consumer Reports’ online hospital service will include evaluations of about 3,000 hospital facilities nationwide. As the newspaper notes, “Consumers will be able to see a graph showing how intensely each hospital tends to treat patients, on a scale from zero for the most conservative to 100 for the most aggressive. Intensity of care is based on time spent in the hospital and the number of doctor visits. The index reflects the hospital's handling of nine serious conditions, including cancer and heart failure, when it treats patients in the last two years of life.”

In announcing its upcoming service, John Santa, director of the new ConsumerReportsHealthRatingsCenter,” told the WSJ that “Consumers need to know there are major differences in care.”

Of course, there are going to be grumblings among hospital executives and clinicians regarding this new service. And it’s likely that the first iteration of this service may seem primitive and perhaps even partly misleading, to hospital leaders. Will that stop this offering in its tracks? Think again.

This new Consumers Union move should be interpreted by hospital leaders, including healthcare IT executives, as yet another sign of the emergence of the new accountability in healthcare. What’s more, CIOs need to be in the thick of things as such programs and offerings proliferate; certainly, they will be called on as never before to help clinical, administrative and financial leaders in their organizations gather, analyze, and produce more and more data for publication and public interpretation. And regardless of whether this specific program becomes hot or fizzles out over time, others like it will doubtless be emerging soon as well.

And, grumble as anyone might wish to, the CU move is another sign of the times. The reality is that CIOs need to help lead their organizations to success in the emerging healthcare universe—a world in which transparency, accountability, credibility, and responsiveness will be the watchwords. Let’s not kid ourselves any longer—resisting the overall trend towards the new accountability will only put the resisters behind their competitors in the industry over time. Whether the first iteration of a new service like this—or even the second or the third—is perfect or even completely credible is beside the point. Like pasta being cooked to taste, some noodles are eventually going to stick. And it’s time for healthcare’s chefs, across IT, clinical services, and financial and administrative departments, to get with the new program, or find themselves left behind in the coming industry-wide bake-off.

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