Los Angeles Times: New website to help patients compare doctors, hospitals

http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-health-quality-20110628,0,5652444,print.story

June 27, 2011

By Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau / For the Booster Shots blog

Reporting from Washington

Consumers looking to compare doctors and hospitals are getting a new resource as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launches an online state-by-state directory of healthcare providers.

The directory features an interactive map of the 50 states that consumers can click on to access 197 state-level and 27 national quality databases set up by nonprofits, health plans and government agencies nationwide.

Though some of these databases have been available for years, such directories have been proliferating as patient advocates, healthcare leaders and public officials intensify efforts to improve the quality of care that Americans receive.

The new healthcare law that President Obama signed last year includes several initiatives to increase quality reporting by healthcare providers. Some of the data are already available to the public at a Department of Health and Human Services website.

But to date, there has been a lag in public use of online resources to compare providers and choose medical care.

Dr. Michael Painter, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said that may reflect the relative novelty of such databases.

Like many experts, Painter said the increased transparency can serve as a powerful tool for patients and medical providers. “If you don’t know about the quality of the care you receive, you can’t really improve it,” he said.

The foundation, which has funded several efforts nationwide to improve healthcare quality, excluded databases that do not rely on objective quality measurements or that charge a fee.

Not all of the databases are comprehensive, since some cover only providers that are participating in local quality reporting initiatives.

There are no state-level quality reports in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii and Idaho.