Fewer Americans Report Seeing Health Care Quality Comparisons.

Some provocative numbers were released yesterday by Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. According to the latest poll conducted in August, only three out of ten (30%) Americans say they have seen health care quality comparisons of health insurance plans, hospitals, or doctors in the past year.

Now not all people make health care choices or decisions in a given year that would call for the use of quality information, but this is a downward trend from surveys in 2006 (36%) and 2004 (35%) and roughly equivalent to the level in 2000 (27%).

This data must come as a disappointment to those who are suggesting changes to health insurance plans that would rely on the public becoming cost-conscious consumers.

But, there are two main reasons given for the sagging use of quality comparison tools. First, the survey found that most people do not think there is a quality difference, and secondly, they find the available comparison tools difficult or very difficult to use.

According to the survey, less than half of the public believe “big” differences in quality among providers of similar health care services exist: four in ten say there are “big” differences in health plans (44%) and hospitals (41%), and three in ten believe there are “big” differences in specialists (33%) and general practitioners (30%). The survey also reports that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public believe it is difficult to find cost comparison information on health care services provided by different doctors and hospitals. Many of those surveyed said that they favor recommendations by friends and family or past personal or family use over comparative quality rankings.

Health Plan Innovation Take: It is becoming increasingly clear that health plans, providers, and third party ranking groups are missing a key ingredient in their efforts to communicate quality differences. It is the human element. No one wants to click through mounds of data about infection rates, mortality rates, readmission rates, etc. to try to determine what health plan or provider is best for them. It is so much easier to ask someone at work, or their cousin, who they think is best.

Certainly the hard data that measures clinical quality is important and it is not something that can be readily observed by our cousin like the floors being clean or the nurse being friendly. We need to find better ways to demonstrate this information to the general public and to combine the quality data with anecdotal information supplied by users.

Go to Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com and you will see what I mean. Look up any item for sale there and you will see an assessment of an item’s quality, usually represented by one to five stars, combined with any number of postings by actual users of the item telling about their experience. If health care quality comparisons were this easy to understand, we would see their rate of use increasing, not decreasing, and we might just see the public becoming more cost-conscious health care consumers.

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