WASHINGTON — The new database on hospital quality from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may herald a new era in patient assertiveness in terms of health care preferences, several experts said at a briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform.
“We're beginning a change in how doctor-patient relations are established and [considering] how paternalistic they have been, I think we'll see major changes in the future where they become less that way,” said Elliot Sussman, M.D., president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown, Pa. “When people come into a community, they'll look at measures like this and say, 'Which are the kinds of places I want to be cared for at, and who are doctors on staff at those places?'”
Such changes already have begun, he said. “We've seen experiences where people change their doctor relationship because 'I really like Dr. Jones, but he's not on the staff of what seems to be the best hospital. Either he does that or I'm going to find myself a new physician.'”
CMS launched its “Hospital Compare” database on April 1. Available online at www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov
Gerald M. Shea, assistant to the president for government affairs at the AFL-CIO, said the feeling of partnership that comes from empowering consumers should spill over to the physician side of the equation.
“I could make the argument that there are very serious limits to how much consumers can drive change in the health decision making process,” he said. “An equally fruitful strategy would be trying to change the preparation and education of physicians, so they come to this suggesting that a partnership would be a good idea.”
Physicians also have much to gain, said Margaret E. O'Kane, president of the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
“Physicians have been working in an information vacuum —both doctors involved in performing particular procedures in the hospital, and the primary care physicians who are making referrals,” she said.
One panelist warned empowerment does have its limits. Charles N. “Chip” Kahn, who is the president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said as databases begin adding more measures, “it will be more and more difficult for the average consumer … to figure things out.”
In the end, he said, databases like this “are more about using accountability to improve care than they are about consumers making more decisions.”