Consumers can access sensitive data on your ICU

Growing industry helps patients make decisions

Sensitive information about your critical care unit’s effectiveness with patients could be just a computer click away.

There’s growing evidence that consumers are logging on to Internet sites and retrieving essential data about a hospital’s clinical performance.

The information is then being used in making decisions about the best medical provider for a range of inpatient and outpatient procedures from a simple laryngoscopy to open-heart surgery.

The information includes everything from a department’s average length of stay to the number of patients who undergo a given procedure each month, reports Paul Shoemaker, senior vice president of Web services with QaudraMed, a San Rafael, CA-based health care information company.

Providers join consumer bandwagon

"Consumers are becoming a lot more accountable for their well-being," Shoemaker says. "The information has always been available, but has been very difficult to access."

Nurses should be aware of the growing sophistication by patients and their families regarding key service characteristics among providers, Shoemaker says.

They should also anticipate being asked pertinent questions and should refer consumers to appropriate hospital departments, such as public affairs or patient relations, he adds.

If you think the idea is far-fetched, consider an item found in a patient newsletter recently published by the august Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.

"If you are a candidate for high-risk surgery, find out how the hospital’s intensive care unit is staffed before scheduling the procedure," the item advised readers.

The article went on to report Johns Hopkins researchers’ findings that not having an ICU specialist on board was associated with a threefold increase in in-hospital deaths and serious complications.

The complications included cardiac arrest, kidney failure, serious infection, and need for a blood transfusion. The study was based on a survey of 46 Maryland area providers.

Web site reveals internal data

Until recently, the growing popularity of on-line consumer health information has focused on physician advice and general health tips.

Now consumers are logging on to sites that deliver a plethora of financial and utilization data about specific services and departments, Shoemaker says.

QuadraMed’s site contains hospital morbidity and mortality data. It also provides information by departments on individual clinical services, their average cost to charges, and utilization figures. The site also can compare the data with other facilities.

The information is taken from Medicare cost reports and American Hospital Association records in Chicago.