No Better Time for Transparency

Maureen Larkin, for HealthLeaders Media, April 3, 2008
The quality and patient satisfaction ratings of local hospitals were all over the pages of newspapers earlier this week, after CMS released the long-awaited results of its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. The story made The New York Times and other high profile news outlets, spurring consumer interest in how their local hospitals fared in the survey. For consumers, it's new, it's fresh, and they're interested.

But for most quality directors, the numbers posted on the Hospital Compare site are old news. That's what Derrick Suehs, chief quality officer for Syracuse, NY's Crouse Hospital told me earlier this week. The data posted on the Hospital Compare site was taken from surveys completed between October 2006 and June 2007. That's a lot of time for a lot of changes to take place at a hospital--and Suehs says Crouse has already addressed the areas where Hospital Compare's results say it is lacking.

Internally, Suehs says his challenge is to make sure that hospital employees don't get caught up in the newly-posted numbers, but instead, continue to work at providing safe and quality care for all patients. But with newspapers and other media outlets talking about HCAHPS and the Hospital Compare site, how do you keep potential patients from getting caught up in the numbers posted there?

"It is important that the hospital explain to the public how the information and data is collected and reported--and in this case, through HCAHPS--without being defensive," says Suehs.

The best way to do this is to be transparent. Use your hospital's Web site to take ownership of your data and present the most current statistics with an explanation of where the numbers came from. Like many hospitals, Crouse partners with a survey vendor that gives them more immediate results of patient satisfaction data--long before it is posted on the Hospital Compare site. By using data that is days--instead of months--old, Crouse has been able to address areas where it is lacking and make improvements, but on Hospital Compare patients won't see that for several months--until the next HCAHPS results are posted.

"We emphasize what our current results are and what we're doing to continuously improve. We back our claims with simple, but statistically valid numbers and visuals that the general public can understand," Suehs says.

If you can see the current data, let your patients see it as well. Share with them the progress you're making and provide the information they're looking for when choosing a hospital. Give them a short explanation of why the data is different and the work your organization has been doing to make the numbers stronger.

CMS has brought patient satisfaction information into the public eye, and now, as quality directors, we need to take charge of how our hospital is seen by the public and do our best to make sure that our hospital does its best to communicate information to those inside and outside the hospital. If your hospital isn't yet "owning" its information and how it is presented, the time is now.

Maureen Larkin is quality editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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