VHA Inc. has published a research paper on consumers' attitudes about the quality of health care in America. The VHA study showed that consumers would like more information about the scientifically based treatment protocols hospitals and doctors should be following and that they would use information about protocol compliance rates to help them select providers. Earlier industry studies hinted that consumers are only able to evaluate health care from a customer service perspective. The VHA study, in contrast, found that consumers believe information about clinical quality performance is a more important factor in their decision making than whether a doctor or hospital is in their insurance network, and that they would consider abandoning a provider they had a positive experience with if objective reports showed poor clinical quality performance.
The study, titled Consumer Demand for Clinical Quality: The Giant Awakens, examines the experiences of more than 500 individuals who have experienced the health care system, either directly or indirectly with close relatives. The study participants were asked a battery of questions related to the quality of the clinical care and how they choose providers.
Based on the study, VHA has come to the following conclusions: -- Consumers are seeking credible and meaningful clinical health care information and feel it is important to be actively involved in their care or the care of their family members.
-- Clinical quality issues are central to consumers' definitions of health care quality and are more important selection drivers than service issues.
-- Clearly presented concepts of evidence-based medicine and system-based measures for patient safety are readily understood and embraced by consumers, especially baby boomers, as information that would influence their choice of provider.
-- Consumers see hospitals simply as bricks and mortar, performing a minor role in assuring clinical quality within the organization, but they believe hospitals, as functional organizations, should be playing a more active role. Consumers believe physicians are the key drivers of clinical quality in a health care organization.
``This study says consumers want clinical information. The study also indicates that hospitals that want to be successful need to demonstrate leadership in advancing clinical quality within their organizations. Then they need to communicate their efforts to the public,'' said Ken Smithson, M.D., vice president of clinical affairs at VHA. ``The next step for VHA is to develop the methods health care organizations can use to educate the public about what constitutes clinical quality. Secondarily, we need to develop the methods hospitals can use to appropriately share their performance with the public. Putting that communications effort into action can be pretty tricky, though. Consumers are turned off by claims of clinical superiority unless it is tied to things they can relate to. The next phase of VHA's research will be working with selected health care organizations to discover how to communicate this clinical quality message in the real world.''
VHA Inc. is a nationwide network of more than 2,100 leading community- owned health care organizations and their affiliated physicians. The VHA alliance comprises 27 percent of the nation's community hospitals, including many of the nation's largest and most respected institutions. VHA offers programs and services to improve financial and clinical performance, and as a cooperative distributes income annually to members based on their participation.