NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 23, 2005

Millions of consumers surf the Web to research their own medical symptoms, and now many are taking the next step: comparison shopping online for hospitals and doctors, says the New York Times.

Employers and insurers, intent on getting the best value from their own health spending, are arming consumers with increasingly detailed searchable databases. The data come from medical records that insurers are pressing doctors and hospitals to provide, and in some cases from patient surveys. So far, the various consumer databases, many available only to individuals enrolled in insurance plans, have some gaps.

  • Measurements in some areas are great, while other areas are still lacking; the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is working to standardize the way health care data are reported.
  • Currently, there is much more quality-of-care information available about hospitals than about individual doctors, except in nine states including Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that provide statistics on the numbers of procedures surgeons perform.
  • Anyone, insured or not, can now log on to the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Web site called Hospital Compare, which uses Medicare and Medicaid data to assess more than 4,000 hospitals around the country.

The Times says private health plans typically provide more comparative data than the federal Web site but the government plans to begin reporting on complications after surgery and whether patients are properly instructed on how to take care of themselves after a hospital stay. A few private insurers will soon allow members to compare their own potential costs under various health plans.

The ability to compare costs is especially important for a growing number of employers seeking to interest their workers in high deductible health savings plans that offer lower premiums at the onset but require plan members to assume more of the financial burden when they need care, says the Times.

Source: Milt Freudenheim, "To Find a Doctor, Mine the Data," New York Times, September 22, 2005.

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