Jan 28, 2008

Sick of hospitals? New Web site lets Michigan consumers compare costs and quality

LANSING – Michigan lawmakers and their staffs are getting their first look at a Web site called Michigan Hospital Information, aimed at bringing price and quality information about the state's hospitals to consumers in an easy-to-use format.

The site is a voluntary effort developed by the Lansing-based Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), a non-profit association consisting of a blend of hospitals and health systems that advocate for hospitals and their patients.

“This is a great example of voluntarily taking the initiative,” said Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, the chair of the House Health Policy Committee. “Not everything has to be legislated.”

The Web site, which is now up and running, lists the 50 most frequent inpatient and outpatient medical procedures covered by Medicare. Consumers can find the average charge, the average payment, the average length of stay and the total number of patients who received this procedure at all of Michigan's hospitals.

The data is provided by the independent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The site also provides data on surgical infections and the common causes of hospitalization.

The goal of the Web site is to assist consumers in making better health-care decisions and help drive down costs. “We have 146 nonprofit hospitals across the state, and when it comes to public policy we need to act as one,” said Gerald Fitzgerald, the president of the MHA.

The Web site also provides a glossary of medical terms to help consumers interpret and understand the data. For example, hip and knee surgery is usually called “lower body reattachment,” but the Web site uses layman terms to describe the procedures and costs.

“We are not like other organizations that just put the information out there,” Fitzgerald said. “We want people to understand it.”

Many states require that their hospital data be published, but it is often in obscure, hard-to-find publications or it must be read at the hospital. For example, the data in California is published in two books the size of New York City telephone directories.

“Obviously, that was not an effective way to get the info to the consumer,” said Jim Lee, the vice president of data policy and development for the MHA. “We think this is the best way to distribute the data.”

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