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New Web site lets consumers compare hospitals

WASHINGTON—People now can compare the quality of care at more than 4,200 hospitals nationwide through a new government Web site that launched Friday.

HospitalCompare.hhs.gov provides side-by-side, hospital-vs.-hospital comparisons on 17 measures: eight related to heart-attack care, four to care for heart failure and five related to pneumonia care.

For instance, the Web site shows the percentage of a hospital's heart-attack patients who, among other treatments, receive aspirin or beta-blockers on arrival and discharge. It also gives the percentage of heart-attack patients who get a thrombolytic agent—a drug to treat blood clots—within 30 minutes of arrival.

For heart-failure patients, the site details, among other things, the percentage who receive an ACE inhibitor—a medicine frequently used to treat heart failure—and the percentage of those who get instructions to help manage their conditions when they're discharged.

Hospital accrediting agencies use such indicators to determine whether a hospital is delivering good basic practice. They add up to an impression that's easily compared with those of other hospitals.

Similar comparisons for patient satisfaction and rates of infection will be added later this year, Medicare administrator Mark McClellan said in a teleconference Friday. Hospital mortality rates are being considered for the site, he said.

The data, which are taken from patient records from the previous year, will be updated quarterly. People who don't have computers can get the same information by calling 1-800-Medicare and asking for an agent at the end of the recorded options.

The Web site lets people compare hospitals in their cities, counties or metropolitan areas. All but 60 U.S. hospitals are participating in the voluntary service, which was established by the Hospital Quality Alliance, a public-private partnership that includes hospitals, government agencies, consumer groups and other health-care organizations such as the American Hospital Association.

Officials hope that listing the percentages of hospital patients who receive proven, effective medical treatments will help people make more informed choices about their hospital care. They stressed that the choice of hospitals should be made in collaboration with patients' primary physicians.

The reporting system builds on provisions of the Medicare Modernization Act, which offers financial incentives for hospitals to report their quality measures publicly.

Those that provide information for the Web site will get slightly higher reimbursements—0.4 percent—from Medicare, the federal health plan for seniors. They must provide information on a certain amount of the quality measures to receive the higher reimbursement rate.

While the reporting is voluntary, inpatient acute-care hospitals that don't provide the information will have their Medicare reimbursement reduced by 0.4 percent.

"We strongly believe that payment incentives work to get quality reporting and quality improvement, when we use measures that are clinically valid and feasible to produce," McClellan said.

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Similar comparative-quality Web sites for nursing homes can be found at www.medicare.gov/Nhcompare/Home.asp

For home health-care providers data, go to www.medicare.gov/HHCompare/Home.asp

For kidney dialysis facilities, go to www.medicare.gov/Dialysis/Home.asp

For Medicare managed care, go to www.medicare.gov/help/MPPF.asp

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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