Hospital report cards are already here | Bleader

Hospital report cards are already here

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Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights scored a PR coup in Sunday's Tribune for being "the first in the Chicago area to disclose extensive information online about the quality of its care." You had to wait until the 16th paragraph to learn that much of this information is already available about every hospital, at the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Unnamed officials at the area's largest hospital chain, Advocate, told the Trib they plan to put up such a site next year. That'll be interesting. The chain has been criticized for underserving less profitable city hospitals while lavishing money on its profitable suburban ones, and it's never responded with actual numbers refuting those charges. When I reported on the issue in December 2005, the measured quality of care on some kinds of cases at Advocate was slightly lower in the city than the suburbs. To take a current example, a heart-attack patient at Advocate Masonic in the year ending September 2006 was less likely to be advised to stop smoking than such a patient at any of Advocate's suburban hospitals.

If Advocate's forthcoming site makes it easy to compare quality of care between hospitals within its system, the chain will deserve praise for going beyond rhetoric. They could even set a new standard: judging from a newly published article in Archives of Survery, there's room for a good deal of improvement on all these sites. Transparency isn't a cure-all, and it doesn't make health care into the kind of straightforward consumer good that economists like to model, but it's gotta be a step in the right direction.

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