Monday, December 21, 2009

Hospital comparisons soon to be a click away

Monday, December 21, 2009 3:12 AM
By Suzanne Hoholik

While you watch parades and football games on New Year's Day, you can fire up your computers and compare Ohio hospitals.

A state law passed nearly four years ago requires hospitals to provide extensive quality and pricing information to the Ohio Department of Health. A consumer-friendly Web site with this information goes live Jan. 1.

Hospitals already report some of this information, but it's difficult for consumers to compare hospitals.

"A lot of that information was out there but was never in a user-friendly format for everyday users of health care," said Jim Raussen, the former state legislator who sponsored the legislation.

"It has to be transparent for the average citizen so they can feel comfort that the information they're getting makes sense to them and is accurate," Raussen said.

The site is called Ohio Hospital Compare and will feature more than 100 quality measures, including mortality and infection rates and how often specific medical procedures are performed at a hospital. There is even information about whether a hospital has a hand-washing program for its health workers.

On the main page, consumers will be able to pick hospitals to compare on quality measures.

Consumers need access to this kind of information, said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

"Hospitals need to be reporting publicly their quality measures such as hospital-acquired infections and preventable complications, so they feel public pressure to improve patient quality and safety," she said.

The Web site also will link to lists of hospital charges, but they won't be in an easy-to-use format until the end of 2010, said Sara Morman, a Health Department spokeswoman.

At that time, consumers will be able to compare charges such as for private and semiprivate rooms, the 30 most-common X-rays, and services in emergency, operating and delivery rooms.

Hospitals caution that these charges aren't what the 88 percent of insured Ohioans will pay. Private and government insurance pay lower, negotiated rates.

"Each one of our health plans has a negotiated rate that's substantially less than those charges," said John Stone, chief financial officer at Ohio State University Medical Center. "We don't have two like payments from any one payer."

Even so, knowing what hospitals charge for the same thing will be helpful, said Kelly McGivern, president of the Ohio Association of Health Plans.

"It's a good barometer just for educating consumers on what these services actually cost," she said. "They need to know it's not going to cost them $10 to have a baby, that it actually costs more than that."

On Jan. 1, consumers will be able to compare hospitals by going to and clicking on Ohio Hospital Compare.