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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 9:00 AM
Navigating Health Care: Comparing Hospitals Online

Rand: What if you bought a used car and it broke down just a few days after you drove it home? Now let’s take a similar example for health care. Imagine if just days after you were sent home from the hospital, you ended up going back. Unfortunately, this situation happens more often than it should. AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy is with us to talk about an easy-to-use Web tool called Hospital Compare that can help you find out if your hospital is doing a good job using data that show how often patients treated at your hospital end up returning for additional care within 30 days of going home. Dr. Clancy, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Clancy: My pleasure.

Rand: So why is it important, as a health care consumer, to check on hospital quality and know about issues such as how often patients are readmitted to the hospital, also known as readmission rates?

Dr. Clancy: Consumers need to check on hospital quality because it is an important part of making an informed decision about where to seek treatment. Data such as readmission rates are good clues for the hospital’s overall care quality. Low readmission rates typically mean that good patient care was given during the first hospital stay, and that important information for post-hospital care was communicated effectively. Low rates also may mean that patients got the right care at the right time from doctors, nurses, and other providers based on the latest knowledge in treating the condition. Readmissions carry high price tags, too. In 2004 Medicare paid $17 billion for unplanned return hospital stays. So your health and wallet pay a price when you repeat a trip to the hospital.

Rand: So you can find out about readmission rates on Hospital Compare. What else can you find out?

Dr. Clancy: You can also check your hospital’s performance. In fact, Hospital Compare provides you with information on more than 4,000 hospitals. Based on standards used to measure quality, the Web site tells you how well a hospital cares for patients with certain medical problems or who need certain surgeries. It also contains patients’ ratings on the care they received during their hospital stay.

Rand: And doing this kind of research is really valuable?

Dr. Clancy: Absolutely. You wouldn’t think of buying a car without seeing how well it rates. In turn, knowing how your hospital performs is just as important for you in making good decisions about your health care. It also helps you understand whether you’re getting good value for your money. And that’s information worth having. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care system.

Rand: Hospital Compare is offered for free to all health care consumers by Medicare and is available from their Web site’s homepage at medicare.gov.

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