But take a look anyway, if you have an interest in process improvement in hospitals. This is a collection of my best posts on this topic.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Data, data, everywhere

A good and thoughtful follow-up on the Jayco issue this morning by the Globe editorial staff. The final line:

Patients need a reliable source to tell them which institutions do the most to minimize errors and correct those that occur, and have the best outcomes at treating disease.

Who can disagree? But, here is the upshot. There are already tons of public reports about hospital performance on a variety of metrics. Two problems: (1) They are based on administrative (i.e., claims data) rather than more accurate clinical data; and (2) they are way out of date. These numbers might as well not be published at all -- in terms of the useful information they provide to referring doctors and to patients. Think about it, are you going to make a decision about treatment based on numbers that are two years old? The numbers remind me of the accurate, but useless, answer given by the apocryphal student in the exam question displayed above.

The writer says that my proposal for self-reporting is "is no substitute for comparative data from an unbiased source". It is not a substitute, but it is available in real time and it is based on exactly the same data each hospital uses to make decisions about clinical improvement.

I have now heard a lot about the lack of comparability across hospitals. For example, I am told that each place measures central line infections differently. A simple solution: Normalize the results. Let's set June 2006 as the base period for all hospitals, with a value of "1". Each month, show whether the chosen metric has risen or fallen relative to "1". That way, the public can see whether things are getting better or worse in that hospital.

You know, what is striking about this "debate" is the lack of criticism I have received on this blog about this kind of proposal. Indeed, most comments have been quite favorable. If you folks out there who think it is stupid, useless, or otherwise bad would just submit comments (even anonymously), all of our readers would have a chance to judge for themselves. Are you that reluctant to engage here on the issue for fear of giving credibility to this medium (i.e, a blog)? Please: I won't be offended by disagreement. We work in academic medical centers, where open discourse is to be encouraged and treasured. (See the marvelous comments below on an even more controversial subject to understand how vibrant the conversation can be.)

All right, call the MSPCA: I am beating this horse past death!

And a note to the interns, mentioned below: Please read through the various postings and comments on this topic. It will be the major issue facing hospitals during your residency and after. Perhaps your arrival in our institutions will help us all come up with better solutions!

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