A Healthy Dose Of Info

February 3, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As West Michigan enters the age of “consumer-driven health care,” it is important that consumers have access to information about the area’s health care providers. Thanks to a number of independent organizations, a great deal of hospital quality assessment information is available on the Internet. Although it is available, finding that information — and making sense of it — can be a difficult task.

Spectrum Health is trying to make that task easier. The health system is the first in the area to post comprehensive quality data on its Web site, www.spectrum-health.org. Quality information on cardiac bypass surgeries, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, strokes, pneumonia and obstetrics was posted on the site last month as the first installments of the Spectrum Health Quality Report Card program.

“The information we’re posting is important to patients and their families,” said John Byrnes, senior vice president of system quality for Spectrum Health. “It’s not enough for patients to know we treat heart attacks and other conditions. They also need to know how often and how well we treat them. These are questions any patient has a right to ask.”

Spectrum’s decision to answer those questions online is related to its involvement in the National Voluntary Hospital Reporting Initiative. The cooperative effort aims to provide a thorough, national network of health information on the treatment of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. In addition to the three data categories required by the initiative, Spectrum is also gathering information on other treatments, which it will post to its Web site in the coming months.

Spectrum, the largest health system in West Michigan, is leading the way in making this information readily available to its patients. Neither Saint Mary’s Health Care nor Metro Health has yet followed suit in providing quality data on their own Web sites, although they do participate in larger quality-reporting initiatives.

“We are not currently posting such information on our Web site,” said Saint Mary’s spokesperson Micki Benz. “However, when patients are looking for a health care provider, we suggest that they use the Web sites that compare the outcomes among many hospitals to receive an objective evaluation. Those Web sites include jcaho.org, leapfroggroup.org, and mpro.org. In general, patients seem to want not just one hospital’s information, but a larger look at comparative data.”

Metro Health spokesperson Jason Manshum said that his organization has found participation in larger, independent quality databases beneficial, but that it also plans to follow Spectrum’s lead.

“Metro Health currently has a team working on the quality information to post online at metrohealth.net later this year,” he said. “We plan to be completely transparent with the information we post. We will post all quality data we have received to date.”

In the meantime, Spectrum is promoting its leadership in providing quality data to consumers. Moreover, the health system is quick to point out that it leads the state in volume for a number of procedures. Studies have suggested a link between volume of treatments and positive outcomes.

“As purchasers of a variety of products and services, we expect a certain level of quality in the products we consume, and health care should not be any different,” said Matt VanVranken, president of Spectrum Health Hospitals. “Quality is doing the right thing the first time and every time, in order for patients to reach their highest level of function, the best medical outcome and complete satisfaction.”

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