Health Care Transparency Effectiveness & Value Depends On Data Quality, Understanding & Awareness


AHCJ Website 2012 CMS Hospital Inspection Deficiency Reports & Other Transparency Data Tool Requiring Management For Proper Use

The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) updated its website, healthcareinspectionreports.com, to include details about deficiencies cited during complaint inspections at acute-care and critical access hospitals throughout the United States since January 1, 2011 obtained from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Because of omissions and limitations in the data, however, AHCJ is cautioning users against using the data to rank hospitals.  In light of these limitations and likely limitations on consumer understanding of the methodology and meaning of the reports, health plans, employers, and other advocates of health care transparency should exercise care that appropriate steps and communications are provided to help potential users properly understand and put into context the data shared.

Transparency is highly touted as a tool by consumer driven health care advocates and others as a key tool for helping improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of patient and other health care decision-making.  Proper use of information from transparency efforts, however, requires both appropriate understanding and use of data and how patients and their families make care decisions and obtain health care information.

The AHCJ resource highlights both the availability of data and the need to ensure that its quality, completeness and relevance is properly used.  AHCJ publishes the reports, which historically have not been easily accessible to the general public.  AHCJ cautions that the data is not necessarily complete and should not be used to rank hospitals within a state.  AHCJ says data on acute-care and critical hospital access hospitals is incomplete because CMS has just begun gathering this data and releasing it in electronic format. AHCJ also says some reports are missing narrative details. Beyond that, CMS acknowledges that other reports that should appear may not.  It does not include results of routine inspections or those of psychiatric hospitals or long-term care hospitals. It also does not include hospital responses to deficiencies cited during inspections. Those can be obtained by filing a request with a hospital or the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).AHCJ to make future iterations of this data more complete. At this time, this data should not be used to rank hospitals within a state or between states. It can be used to review issues identified at hospitals during recent inspections. 

Subject to these limitations, an individual wishing to review the available data can click  on a state on the map will retrieve a list of all hospitals with their violations grouped together.  What the individual does with the information once they review it, however, depends upon the extent to which the individual properly understands the data, its completeness, relevance and accuracy and has the appropriate skills and ability to use this information to make better health care choices.

Information not used or used improperly may line pocketbooks of information brokers, consultants or others but does little to improve understanding or care.   A key  challenge to impacting care through transparency often arises because patients are unaware of the data or its proper use.   When encouraging consumers and others to review and consider this and other information, however, health plans, employers, community leaders and others need to use care to help educate the potential users about the relevance, accuracy and meaning of the information.  

As noted by AHCJ, for instance, omissions and limitations in the data posted means that the information shared is incomplete.  The omission of responses and other relevant data creates the possibility that hospitals might be inappropriately stigmatized by the report.  Furthermore, without some context to understand the rules, criteria, purposes and methodology of the reviews and corrective or other actions taken, consumers or others considering the reports may reach inappropriate conclusions about the current quality of the hospital.  Accordingly, plans and employers sharing or using this information should take appropriate steps to help educate users to properly understand and use the data.

The bottom line is that transparency is only one of many tools that if properly used, can help improve quality and cost effectiveness.  The availability of the reports and other information and resources intended to provide “transparency” can be helpful tools to consumers and health plans if the consumer knows it exists and properly understands the quality and meaning of the data and how to use it.   See, e.g., Care Transparency:  What Employers Are Missing.  Consumers, health plans, and others advocating for transparency data and its use must understand the quality and the limitations on its data, the appropriateness of the conclusions drawn from the data and the relevance to the patient situation in question at the time when care is sought and how to best get the transparency information into the care process for the patient.  Transparency is a tool; not a panacea.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help labor and employment, health and other employee benefit, compensation, privacy and data  other internal controls and management concerns, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and run legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising these and other clients about these matters  and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration & Customs, Justice, and Health & Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, state labor, insurance, tax and attorneys’ general, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on health and other employee benefit, labor, employment and other human resources, worker classification, tax, internal controls, risk management and other legal and operational management concerns. 

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the immediate past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations who is published and speaks extensively on worker classification and related matters.   She is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications.

You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

About Solutions Law Press

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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 

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