Yesterday I wrote about my interview with Mark Hochstetler, M.D., vice president of clinical affairs with the VHA. In the course of our discussion about price, quality and the Amish, Dr. Hochstetler brought Licking Memorial Hospital (LMH) in Newark, Ohio to my attention. Requiring hospitals to publicly post quality data has become fairly commonplace in the last several years, but LMH has been voluntarily reporting quality data on twelve areas since 2000--several years before the major public push for quality reporting. In 1999 the CEO of LMH anticipated the trend and had an idea: Why not make quality data--good or bad--available to the community LMH served? So with the support of senior management, LMH took out a full-page newspaper ad and each month reported on LMH's quality data versus national benchmarks in one of 12 practice areas: cardiology, chronic heart failure, maternity care, respiratory care, behavioral health, stroke care, emergency care, diabetes care, cancer care, pneumonia care, surgical care and patient safety.
The thought of advertising quality data in the local newspaper is enough to make some hospital administrators break out in a cold sweat. And indeed, sometimes LMH has to admit there's room for improvement when it posts its data. In those cases, a note is usually attached to less-than-stellar reports informing patients what the hospital is doing to turn the numbers around. "Public reporting holds you to a different level of accountability," notes Debbie Murphy, director of process improvement at the hospital. But she said that one of the hospital's objectives with the reports is to build a level of trust. And because of LMH's proximity to Columbus, posting quality data is a way of building trust with a large multi-hospital community.
The newspaper ad has evolved into a four page insert in Licking's monthly newsletter that reaches 58,000 area residents. It is also posted on LMH's Web site. The newsletter--Community Connection--features a theme each month and promotes education programs, health information, patient case studies and much more. Murphy says the newsletter is popular with patients and that the communication between LMH and residents has made their community more sophisticated consumers.
Promoting and reporting quality is in everyone's best interest. Rather than fearing this trend, hospitals should embrace it as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with their communities--and at the same time taking a long, hard look at what areas need improvement. - Maureen