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Sunday, 18 February 2018 19:59

New online database offers real-time data for Michigan health care consumers

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Transparency in health care in Michigan took a step forward with the launch of yet another online database for patients across the state to look up hospital data.

The difference this time: The effort comes not from a third party but from the hospitals themselves, which seek to respond to what they see as growing consumer interest for information on quality and cost before they decide where to go for a medical test or procedure.

Developed by the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, VerifyMiCare.org adds to an array of existing websites that offer consumers access to quality data. Other platforms from Healthgrades.com, The Leapfrog Group and Medicare’s Hospital Compare offer similar data. However, the MHA site focuses only on Michigan hospitals and offers real-time statistics that are no more than six months old, compared to many competing sites that use year-old or two-year-old data.

The MHA launched the site for consumers who are willing to go online and compare quality and cost data about care providers.

Providing data that consumers can use has taken on heightened importance as more people are now enrolled in high-deductible health plans and pay more out of pocket for their care, said Tina Freese Decker, the COO at the 12-hospital Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

“Consumers need this information to make an informed decision, and it’s imperative that we provide this information,” Freese Decker said. “We want to engage consumers and patients in their health care and improve their health, and part of that is engaging them in understanding how they make informed decisions and helping them make those informed decisions, whether it’s based on the quality, or the experience they’re looking for, or the cost.”

Freese Decker chaired an MHA committee that developed VerifyMiCare.org, which initially provides data on hospital quality measures. It includes details about infections, C-section rates, readmission and mortality rates, retained surgical items, early elective deliveries, and inpatient length of stay for certain procedures such as knee and hip replacement surgeries.

She now chairs a second committee that’s looking at how to post hospital pricing data online for consumers. The committee on price transparency should issue recommendations by the end of June, Freese Decker said.

Freese Decker likens posting quality data about care providers to how Amazon.com and other online retailers use a star rating system for the products they sell. Health care needs to adopt a similar thinking, especially for consumers who grew up in the digital age and are accustomed to having such information at their fingertips, she said.

“People are expecting that,” Freese Decker said. “As consumers have disrupted every other industry, now I see consumers asking the same questions of health care, and we need to be more responsive and provide that information so we can partner with them and engage with them on these very personal decisions.

“There’s more consumerism in health care and there’s more shopping. Not everyone will make the shopping experience, (but) we have to allow for that.”

STARTING CONVERSATIONS

The quality information on VerifyMiCare.org comes from data that member hospitals regularly submit to an MHA database, as well as data from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The MHA is conducting consumer testing to gauge how people use VerifyMiCare.org, whether the site helps people make decisions, and what additional quality data to post, Freese Decker said.

VerifyMiCare.org also differs from some of the existing sites that report quality data in that it focuses on outcomes rather than internal processes, said Sam Watson, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at the MHA.

The MHA decided to focus on outcomes data for consumers because “you don’t want to add noise to a cluttered field,” he said. The site also does not judge hospitals’ performance but allows consumers to compare outcome data.

For example, Watson cites the length of stay for a hip or knee replacement surgery. The information allows patients to ask their surgeons why one hospital has a different length of stay compared to another for the same procedure.

“The whole point of this website isn’t to be the end all, cure all, but rather the starting point for a conversation,” Watson said. “We need to get to the point of shared decision making.”

MORE THAN PRICE

Despite the availability of transparency sites that offer cost and quality data, their use remains relatively low.

The health care journal Health Affairs last summer reported on the result of a study that included nearly 3,000 non-elderly adults in the U.S. who had received care within the last 12 months. Just 13 percent of the individuals who had out-of-pocket costs for their care sought out information on the estimated cost beforehand, and only 3 percent compared costs across providers, according to the report.

Researchers noted that consumers involved in the study may not have shopped for the price of care for a number of reasons, such as they were comfortable with their care providers and their co-pay. The study also acknowledged “that price is only one consideration for patients when they choose a provider.”

In West Michigan, Spectrum Health has a section on its website that offers pricing data and what patients can expect to incur for care. Many health insurers also provide some form of a rating system for care providers.

In 2016, the Spectrum-owned health plan Priority Health launched a cost estimator on its website that allows members to look up what they can reasonably expect to pay out of pocket, based on their health benefits, for elective medical procedures and diagnostic tests. Priority Health in November also added prescription costs to the estimator.

About 10 percent of Priority Health’s more than 700,000 members have used the cost calculator since it started.

As more employers transition to lower-cost, high-deductible health plans, Watson believes more of their employees will look up cost and quality data before deciding where to go for non-emergency or non-urgent care. That’s particularly true for younger consumers, he said.

“They want the data in their decision making, and we need to make sure it’s there for them,” Watson said. 

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