U.S. website allows consumers to shop around

The U.S. government launched a new web site on Friday designed to help consumers shop around when it comes to comparing their local hospitals.

The theory that public disclosure will increase the quality of care hospitals provide is behind the idea, which, says Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), means that hospitals may risk losing patients to nearby competitors who score better.

Hospitals were given a slightly higher reimbursement rate for their Medicare patients if they agreed to collect and report data for three medical conditions - heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia. The information was then compiled and placed on an interactive Web site that enables readers to compare the hospital of their choice to other hospitals in their state and to the nation for certain basic measurements.

Someone who might want to check whether the Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock gave its heart attack patients aspirin upon arrival,could see by accessing the website that nationally, 91 percent of heart attack patients were given aspirin upon arrival at a hospital. State-wide in Arkansas, 85 percent of such patients were given aspirin, and at Arkansas Heart Hospital itself, 95 percent of such patients were given aspirin.

Medical experts recommend such a measure because aspirin can prevent clotting, which can help prevent a second heart attack.

The government has collected 17 measurements for the three medical conditions. It hopes to increase those numbers as the site evolves.

Dick Davidson, president of the American Hospital Association, said hospitals welcomed the new Web site and worked closely with the government as it was developed and that it was important to compare performance and improve wherever possible.

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