Hospitals and providers who publicly self-report quality measures need a unified set of transparency standards to which they adhere, and an external entity to evaluate adherence to those standards, according to Johns Hopkins Researchers who authored a Viewpoint post for the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The volume of publicly available data on healthcare quality is rising, yet there are no standards in place for what information should be reported, its level of accuracy or the underlying data that support the reported measures, researchers said.
Hospital and providers are posting performance data on their system websites, making the lack of standards concerning since hospitals have a vested interest in presenting themselves in a positive light.
In fact, researchers said there may well be evidence that organizations may be publishing misleading information. "For instance, one hospital stated on its web-site, 'Come to us, we have no infections,' without stating which types of infections were included, how this performance outcome was measured, or how long the hospital had gone without an infection," researchers said.
These concerns are likely to grow thanks to the number and types of measures now being reported, the researchers said. What's more, the reporting efforts are often driven by marketing departments that aren't aware of appropriate scientific standards.
"Auditing could help ensure the accuracy of the data reported and a single auditing standard could help reduce variation in auditing practices."
They do say that more input will be needed to refine the potential standards and promote their acceptance, and the burden that will be inflicted on priverds in complying to the the standards must be gauged. It would also be helpful if the standards were endorsed by notable agencies like CMS, the National Quality Forum and the American Hospital Association.
More work will be needed in order to inform the public on the degree to which providers comply with the standards, including gathering feedback from patient and consumer organizations. Finally, data would need to be collected as the process progresses to see whether the standards have had any effect whatsoever on improving reporting or patient outcomes.
"Patients deserve truthful, timely, and transparent measures of quality. Without standards in place to ensure that the data presented by healthcare organizations meet these goals, the recommendation to patients remains: "Let the buyer beware."