Providers call for transparent quality standards

More healthcare data becomes available to the public all the time, but the quality and comparability of data varies widely. Researchers from Johns Hopkins say organizations should develop transparent quality standards to make this information useful to patients.

A trend toward greater transparency in the healthcare industry has resulted in the release of a huge volume of data on healthcare quality, write Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., Albert W. Wu, M.D., and J. Matthew Austin, Ph.D., in the latest issue of JAMA.

The lack of consistent standards raises questions about the accuracy and utility of those data, however, especially when hospitals and physicians report measures without any context. As an example, the authors point to a hospital website claiming “no infections,” without reference to the methods or duration of the study that yielded the data point.

Given the absence of current standards and the difficulty involved in applying quality metrics to primary care practices, the authors propose a process similar to the one in place for reporting financial information, where “hospitals and physicians might self-attest as to whether they meet a set of standards and whether they conduct an independent audit of their quality measures.”

To help consumers, the article suggests watchdog groups could keep tabs on organizational compliance, making it clear whether the metrics used for quality data match published standards.

Among the biggest hurdles such an approach would need to overcome is the additional administrative burden required to audit measures, at a time when many doctors have already expressed reticence about the cost-benefit balance around quality reporting. They also note that without endorsements from large-scale providers or national organizations like the National Quality Forum, American Hospital Association, or CMS, refining standards and gaining broad industry acceptance of them could be difficult.

The authors also note that the existence of quality information does not necessarily mean patients will use it. Researchers have seen a similar phenomenon with recent surveys showing healthcare consumers’ tepid response to price transparency tools, even when they claim to want them.