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The results of a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) suggests that last year’s media frenzy about medical errors sunk in with the public. They now report that medical errors are one of the primary criteria for judging health care quality.
The results of the national survey of more than 2,000 adults indicate that people are more concerned about mistakes happening when they are in the hands of the health care system than when they are flying on an airplane. The majority say that information about medical errors (71%) and malpractice suits (70%) would be the biggest help to them in determining the quality of providers.
The survey also found that the public is more likely to rely on recommendations of friends, family, and health professionals they know than on standardized quality indicators. However, the gap between relying on family, friends, and personal physicians vs. data has narrowed since 1996 when the survey was first conducted. The survey also shows although most Americans get their health coverage through the workplace, six in 10 do not believe employers are a trusted source of information on quality of providers, and few have consulted the Internet for such information.
Drew Altman, PhD, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, says he thinks the survey results can be traced directly to the recent furor over medical errors sparked by the 1999 Institute of Medicine Report.
"Media attention to the Institute of Medicine story 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," he says.
Americans are more likely now than in 1996 to say there are big differences in the quality of local health plans, hospitals, and specialists. For example, more than half of Americans (55%) say there are big differences in the quality of care among local health plans, an increase from 47% in 1996.
Provider experience also is important to Americans in informing them about the quality of a doctor or hospital: 66% say how much experience a hospital has in performing a particular test or procedure, and 65% say the number of times a doctor has conducted a specific medical procedure are important measures of quality. Patient experiences in getting care are also important to consumers. Whether the plan has programs to help people with chronic illnesses (67%), how easy it is for plan members to see specialists (66%), how quickly patients can get a doctor’s appointment (64%), and the percentage of plan members who get preventive care for conditions such as high blood pressure (63%), were frequently cited as indicators of a health plan’s quality.
John Eisenberg, AHRQ director, says the survey shows providers cannot ignore the public’s concern about medical errors. "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," he says. "All of us 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."
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, based in Menlo Park, CA, is a nonprofit, independent national health care philanthropy that is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries. AHRQ is the lead federal agency charged with supporting research designed to improve the quality of health care, reduce costs, address patient safety and medical errors, and broaden access to essential services.
Findings from this survey were presented Dec. 11, 2000 at a conference in Bethesda, MD, "Informing Consumers About Health Care Quality," sponsored in part by AHRQ.