Empowering Patients

Posted on October 7, 2009


Last week I wrote a blog post about the challenges faced by patients when they try to be prudent consumers of health care. In short, it’s pretty tough, since the market for health care plays by some pretty different rules than the rest of the economy.

However, a front page article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal provides some hope that, given the right information, patients can in fact become better consumers, and, in the process, experience better medical outcomes while spending less money. The article begins as follows:

Be it cereal or cars, buyers usually have an idea of how good the products are and how much they cost before they buy them.

That’s not how U.S. health care works. Patients rarely know which hospitals offer top-quality lung or aortic surgery, and which are more likely to harm them. Hospitals don’t compete on price and rarely publish measurements of their quality, if they measure it at all.

Except in Pennsylvania. For two decades, a state agency has published “medical outcomes” — death and complication rates — from more than 50 types of treatments and surgery at hospitals. The state has found that publishing results can prompt hospitals to improve, and that good medical treatment is often less expensive than bad care.

According to the article, Pennsylvania has been quite successful in researching and documenting medical outcomes, which has resulted in improved care and lower costs. The system isn’t perfect; for example, certain hospitals have complained errors or of problems with the methodology. Another weakness is that, so far, it has been difficult to gather and publish cost information. But, overall, the system seems to work and could serve as a model to the rest of the country.

Posted in: Health Benefits