Do Hospitals Care About Improving Patient Outcomes?: Hospital Report Cards Fall Flat at Improving Patient Outcomes

In a recent study published in Health Affairs, researchers wanted to know whether Medicare’s public reporting initiative, Hospital Compare, which began reporting measures of hospital quality for almost all US acute care hospitals in 2005, had an impact on patient mortality. They concluded:

Medicare’s public reporting initiative for hospitals has had a minimal impact on patient mortality.

In short, this study seems to suggest that hospitals don’t care about improving patient outcomes. Or, as was blogged on The Health Care Blog, “Since when has disclosure ever affected behavior?”

Is this attitude about the study’s findings being cynical or realistic?

Hospital ad spending and messages would seem to suggest that hospitals are aware and concerned about reputation and what the public thinks about them.

According to Kantar Media, which is a part of WPP, the world’s largest communications services group, hospital advertising is increasing. As the NY Times reported:

In the first six months of 2011, advertising by American hospitals, clinics and medical centers rose 20.4 percent, to $717.2 million, from $595.5 million in the same period in 2010.

Moreover, much of these ad dollars were spent at educating consumers. According to Fierce Healthcare:

With healthcare consumers becoming more involved in the decision-making process, hospitals directed a lot of their ad dollars toward educational materials that give patients more information about specific clinical services and treatments.

Admittedly, at least as a cynic would argue, an ad doesn’t show that the advertiser cares, only about whether the ad prompts the viewer to buy the product or service.

However, as Health Affairs Blog admitted, the Health Affairs study may only show that the public just has not been using Health Compare:

Past surveys have suggested that quality report cards like Hospital Compare are underused by patients and ignored by referring physicians. This study adds to that evidence suggesting that consumers at least did not seem to be checking the Medicare website to make more informed choices about where to check in for an elective procedure.

With that conclusion, the original question still remains – Do Hospitals Care About Improving Patient Outcomes?

What do you think?

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