Increasingly, U.S. adults turn to the Internet for health information, but few use or fully understand the quality of care information they receive, according to the Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis (JKTG) Foundation for Health Policy in Highland, Md. The JKTG Foundation commissioned a team of Harvard health communication experts, led by K. Viswanath, Ph.D., to summarize why and recommend how the use and understandability of quality measures can be improved. The paper, "Communication and Quality of Care: An Overview" provides a standardized definition of quality of care and reviews relevant literature to provide a context for the best practices of reporting quality measures to consumer audiences.
“Medicare and other providers count certain quality measures essential due to a false belief that those measures matter to consumers. The fact is, very few consumers can engage with today's quality reporting,” said Ted Giovanis, JKTG Foundation founder and president, in a prepared statement. “The field needs to recognize that there is no magic combination of quality measures appropriate for all consumers and instead target efforts to educate patients about their care in an understandable way.”
Consumers most frequently use online health information to learn about a specific disease or medical problem they or someone they know might have. Research shows that consumers underutilize quality of care information primarily because the information is inaccessible, incomprehensible and unfamiliar. In fact, only 14 percent of U.S. adults annually integrate available quality information into their health care decisions, with rates even lower among underserved populations.
Researchers recommend six strategies to increase the use of online quality reports among consumers:
- Bridge the gap between health care provider and patient through a better understanding of what "quality of care” means by introducing new quality measures that prioritize patient perspectives;
- Make quality reports accessible for consumers with a wide range of literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills through the use of plain language and appropriate presentation formatting;
- Incorporate customization, contextualization and interpretation tools into quality reports to articulate how health care quality data can be meaningful to consumers' health decision making;
- Improve the "findability" and consumer awareness of evidence-based health care quality information from credible online sources;
- Improve the usability of websites that offer quality of care information with a specific focus on the underserved; and
- Enable patients across all socio-economic positions and racial and ethnic backgrounds to use Internet technology as a platform for shared decision-making and as a tool to engage with both the management of the health care services they receive, and the management of their health.