Perception is reality: Why hospital quality data is so important

When people go to a hospital, they assume they'll receive quality care--and that nurses will answer the call bell and fill up their water pitcher when it's empty. But while hospitals across the country are hoping to differentiate themselves by talking about how they provide quality care, is quality care really a differentiator when "hospitals exceed 90 percent compliance on most of the Joint Commission's 31 quality measures?"

Perhaps a better differentiator would be how well hospitals put meaning behind their quality scores. Research shows that approximately 60 percent of adults go to the Internet for health information. Now, they can access hospital quality data online on sites like the Joint Commission's, CMS' Hospital Compare, or on informal sites such as AngiesList, and

Even Consumer Reports, long known for its product guides, has joined the list and publishes patient satisfaction scores for more than 3,400 U.S. hospitals.

Despite the glut of information, consumers rarely use it when deciding where they'll go to receive care. According to a Consumer Reports study from last September, only 11 percent of those surveyed chose a hospital because of its record for treating a specific condition, and only 2 percent made the decision based on hospital ratings they read in a book, a magazine or online.

If people are going to the Internet to find health information, why aren't they going there to look at the hospital quality data?