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Tool Lets Patients Give Hospitals a Checkup


A new online tool from Medicare can help you evaluate some of the care that hospitals in your area provide to patients.

The service – called, appropriately enough, Hospital Compare – is part of a burgeoning effort within healthcare to give patients, families and medical providers access to more data about treatments and outcomes. At the same time, the information, ideally, encourages hospitals to improve the quality of care they offer.

In specific, the Hospital Compare website helps users see whether medical facilities are providing some of the care that is recommended for individuals receiving treatment in five categories: heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, asthma (children only), or patients having surgery.

According to Medicare, hospitals “voluntarily submit data from medical records about the treatments their patients receive for these conditions.” The statistics include patients with Medicare coverage, individuals who participate in Medicare health plans, and those who don’t have Medicare.

At the same time, the service, among other data, offers surveys of patients’ experiences at individual hospitals (example: “percentage of patients who said that their pain was ‘always’ well controlled”) – and information about “Hospital Outcome of Care Measures.” The latter are 30-day mortality and readmission rates for patients admitted to a hospital for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. (Note: The one-month time frame, according to Medicare, is “when deaths are most likely to be related to the care patients received in the hospital.”)

In the case of Hospital Outcome of Care Measures, the data are based solely on patients in original Medicare – not Medicare Advantage plans or patients who don’t have Medicare.

The site is relatively simple to use. You type in your ZIP code (or current town or city of residence) and select the information (example: a surgical procedure) you wish to compare across hospitals. The service first displays hospitals within 25 miles of your location and then allows you to compare three hospitals at a time.

Of course, Hospital Compare has its limitations. Given that the information is based on hospitals’ own data (again, voluntarily supplied), the quality of that information is as good – or inadequate – as an individual facility’s reporting procedures. And information from Medicare alone shouldn’t be the basis for choosing a medical provider; such decisions, of course, also should involve discussions with physicians and family members.

That said, Hospital Compare is one of a growing number of tools that patients will have at their disposal in coming years to get a better picture of various medical treatments and outcomes.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.