Consumers Rely on ‘Informal’ Information, AHRQ Survey Finds
When choosing health care providers, the American public is more likely to rely on recommendations from family, friends and health professionals than on standardized quality indicators, according to a joint survey released today by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The National Survey on Americans as Health Care Consumers: An Update on the Role of Quality Information is based on telephone surveys conducted between July 31 and October 9, 2000 among 2,014 adults nationwide. According to the survey, about 60% of Americans rely "a lot" on recommendations from friends, family or their regular physicians in choosing a provider, while less than 50% said they would rely on "more formal" quality indicators, such as patient surveys, consumer groups, or newspapers and magazines. Only about 10% of survey participants said they used comparative information about health plans, hospitals or physicians when making health care decisions. The survey points out, however, that "few people have seen any information of this kind." About 25% of those surveyed have seen comparative information on health plans; about 15% have seen this type of information on hospitals; and about 10% on physicians. The survey also found that when looking for quality indicators on heath care providers, few are turning to the Internet. Only 7% have seen information about quality online, and few trust health information provided on Web sites. But 28% of consumers indicated that they would look to the Internet to find such information in the future.
Medical Errors & Malpractice
The survey also found that "large majorities" said information about medical errors (71%) and malpractice suits (70%), if made public, would be the "biggest help" in determining the quality of providers. Seventy-three percent said the government should mandate that this information be public, while 21% felt this information should be distributed on a voluntary basis "to ensure the privacy of patients and medical staff." More than 60% felt the government should play a role in "promoting, monitoring and providing information about the quality of doctors, hospitals and health plans." AHRQ Director John Eisenberg said, "This study clearly shows that people are interested in information on the quality of the health care services they receive, but they don't actively seek out that information." Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman noted that media attention to last year's Institute of Medicine study on medical mistakes "has propelled the problem of medical errors to the forefront in just a short period of time. It's an amazing example of agenda setting." Eisenberg added that those involved in producing "quality information have both an opportunity and a responsibility to make this information more readily available, as well as to ensure that the information is reliable, valid, and useful in helping people make more informed health care decisions. This is a special opportunity to put research to work to improve health care quality" (AHRQ release, 12/11).