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Web Site Offers Data For Patients To Judge Hospital Quality

Government site focuses on just three ailments--heart attacks, heart failure, and pneumonia--but will expand to more conditions and quality measures.

Patients and their families now will have more data than ever to judge the quality of their hospitals, thanks to a new government Web site that launches Friday.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Web site will provide quality data from 4,200 U.S. hospitals related to 17 measures in the treatment of patients with three common conditions: heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia.

The goal of the site is to provide the public "with transparency, to help people choose" where they receive their care, says Nancy Foster, VP for quality and patient-safety policy of the American Hospital Association, an industry organization that participated in the government's Web-site project.

Hospitals provide the data to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under a quality initiative launched in 2003. The 4,200 hospitals represented on the Web site cover nearly all U.S. hospitals eligible for government Medicare programs, which pay for the health-care services of the elderly. Hospitals had a major incentive this year to provide the quality data: They receive full Medicare payments for the treatment of patients with any of those three conditions if they provide it.

The Web site will be expanded in the future to include quality data for other measures and conditions from other hospitals, says Foster.

There are more than 6,000 hospitals in the United States. Those not currently represented on the Web site include specialty hospitals such as orthopedic, psychiatric, and children's hospitals, as well as small rural facilities, which don't commonly treat a large a volume of heart-attack patients, Foster says.

Eventually, hospitals will be able to post to the site quality-of-care data related to preventative actions they take, such as avoiding surgical patient infections, plus data about patients' perceptions of their encounters at the hospitals, Foster says. That data will begin to be collected in about five months, and will likely be available on the site in 2007.

Children's hospitals are interested in providing quality data related to conditions they commonly treat, Foster says.

Among the 17 quality measures for the three conditions featured are data on the percentage of suspected heart-attack patients treated at the hospital who received an aspirin or beta blocker upon arrival; percentage of pneumonia patients who received antibiotics in a timely way; and percentage of heart-failure patients who receive heart-function assessments.

The quality data is updated quarterly, Foster says, and is electronically collected into a data warehouse operated by a government contractor.

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