When hospital data transparency isn't enough

Data transparency is an increased priority for hospitals and health systems, but raw data often don't convey the nuances of care quality, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Even as more data is available to show which providers are low performers, far less information exists on why they are low performers, writes Elaine Cox, M.D., medical director of infection prevention at Indiana University's Riley Hospital for Children. This means financial penalties may punish providers for what amounts to limited resources or a particularly high-risk patient population, a concern also raised by the American Hospital Association.

Moreover, Cox writes, "the principles of mathematics would suggest that as programs improve and get closer in performance, institutions performing just barely outside of the bell curve of performance may incur unfair penalties."

Data transparency is even more susceptible to missing the big picture when it comes to individual providers or specialties, according to Cox. For example, the field of congenital heart surgery has made numerous advantages in the past four decades, but the field is complex and nuanced enough that when physicians take on high-risk patients with low chances of survival, raw data is unlikely to provide proper context.

In addition to unfairly punishing providers, Cox writes, this can also keep talented providers from specialties that involve complex care or high-risk cases, which will prevent care from evolving.

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