Quality reports and ratings may not impress patients

Evaluations not growing in influence, either

One strategy for improving the quality of health care is to evaluate providers and plans, and to publish the results to help consumers make more informed choices.

Unfortunately, according to data from Rochester, NY-based Harris Interactive, the publication of ratings and rankings of health plans, hospitals and physicians has had almost no impact on the choices that consumers make.

While millions of people have seen these lists, hardly anyone (1% or less of adults) has changed providers or health plans as a result.

Furthermore, a comparison of 2001 and 2002 data finds no evidence that these evaluations are growing in influence.

These findings make important, but depressing, reading at a time when there is much talk of health care consumerism, the importance of consumer choice, the emergence of "consumer-directed" health plans, and a more market-driven health care system.

To evaluate the influence of published ratings, Harris Interactive asked a nationwide sample of 1,013 adults, via telephone in June 2002, whether they could remember seeing any ratings of hospitals, health plans, and physicians; whether they had considered making a change based on these ratings; and if so, if they actually had made a change.

The results unequivocally show that many millions of people have seen such ratings but that only 1% or less of all adults have made a decision (to change plans, physicians, or hospitals) based on these listings.

In other words, these published lists of ratings, which rank different plans and providers, have had virtually no impact on consumer choice. This is the second survey that asked these questions. A virtually identical survey of 1,008 adults surveyed in June 2001, suggests that the influence of published ratings is not increasing over time. The results are disappointing for those who believe in the dissemination of objective quality ratings.

Insofar as there were any changes from 2001 to 2002, they show modest increases in those who remember seeing ratings of hospitals and plans (but a small decrease for physicians) and no increase in influence. All of the changes are relatively insignificant statistically.

[For more information, contact:

  • Harris Interactive, Corporate Headquarters, 135 Corporate Woods, Rochester, NY 14623-1457. Telephone: (800) 866-7655.]