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A Call for Standards, Auditing of Hospital Quality Data

By Tinker Ready  
   August 24, 2017

Quality data looks good in ads and on hospital and health system websites. A little too good at times.

A hospital website would seem like an obvious place to deliver healthcare information, especially information about the quality of services. But, for the uninitiated, the marketing piece of the website may be difficult to distinguish from the clinical piece.

Not that hospitals shouldn't promote themselves. But as more data about infection rates and readmissions becomes available, health systems need to ensure that the information they share actually reflects the quality they offer.

That's the call from Peter Pronovost, MD, and his team at the Johns Hospital Medicine.

They make their case in a JAMA Viewpoint essay published online earlier this month. This is not Pronovost's first call for standards and auditing. But this latest call is directed specifically at hospitals and health systems. He thinks they need to take the lead.

"Before healthcare provider organizations ask others to meet standards, we ought to make sure our own house is in order," Pronovost said in a telephone interview with HealthLeaders.

In some cases, hospitals may be misusing quality data in ways that are at best confusing, and at worst deceptive, he says.

"There is some data that hospitals might be incentivized to make themselves look more positive when they report publicly," he said. "It wouldn't surprise anyone that that happens."

Dubious Claims

Pronovost found one hospital website urging patients to "Come to us, we have no infections." Without any information about which type of infections, or how and how long infection rates were measured, the claim is essentially meaningless.

But the JAMA piece doesn't dwell on misleading hospitals ads. Pronovost says his goal is to offer a "positive step forward to begin to mature the field. "

The opportunities for getting it wrong grow with each data point and every step toward greater transparency.

Tinker Ready is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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