The infobesity problem

By - Last modified: March 14, 2013 at 9:18 AM

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Heather Stauffer
Heather Stauffer

It's official: I, health care reporter, proclaim that hospitals have an infobesity problem.

The issue is quality information — how good a job hospitals do with their patients. There's a big push to inform health care consumers so they can make wise choices and bring market pressure to bear on the industry, and all of that I applaud.

But as messages go, the ones on hospital quality leave a lot to be desired. There are so many different entities issuing reports, and so many different entities touting those reports, that the result is a cacophony that, if you listen really hard, resolves into "hospitals get awards."

I understand how it happens: Hospital quality is a complicated thing, and everyone has a different idea about how best to depict it, and then hospitals capitalize on the opportunity to tout successes. Throw that all in together and you get infobesity, a nasty mashup of information overload and decision fatigue.

For example, I have in front of me a document from a hospital I will not name that lists awards, recognitions, achievements and firsts. It runs to three pages, and I counted at least 16 different entities issuing said plaudits. And those are just the assessments that the hospital is proud of!

I believe I have now adequately illustrated the problem, which takes us to the solution part of this discussion. I am going to refrain from offering any big-picture suggestions, but if you have any I'd be thrilled to hear them.

I do, however, have two small-picture suggestions.

The first is that if you have occasion to select a provider for a specific procedure, you do specific research. That is, if you need cardiac care, take a look at what your options are telling you about themselves and then go check out the sources and find out how the different facilities rank. There's a wealth of information there, and the sources want very much to be of help. Use them.

The second is that you check the provider's Facebook page and see how many likes it has. And no, I'm not kidding; per this article, a recent study in the American Journal of Medical Quality found "that the number of Facebook 'Likes' for a hospital may serve as an indicator of hospital quality and patient satisfaction."

And now, a serendipitous conclusion. My Twitter feed just served up this timely gem: "Leapfrog Hospital Survey overlaps w/well-established quality reports from @PHCQA, @TJCommission, @CDCgov #NHSN, @CMSgov #HospitalCompare." The Twitterverse speaks with me.

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Speaking of Facebook likes, here's an article on how analysis of them can predict your personal attributes.

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Last week I wrote about a ruling pertaining to Pennsylvania's now-defunct adultBasic program, which allowed low-income workers to purchase health insurance at a minimal cost. The end of this story focuses on small-business owners who relied on adultBasic for health insurance coverage.

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Are you surprised to hear that the most recent edition of the Federal Reserve's beige book included the sentence "Employers in several Districts cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff"?

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Finally, Harrisburg Area Community College has announced that the Francis J. Dixon Foundation will fund the tuition of Lebanon County residents taking the Certified Nurse Aide training program at the Lebanon Campus beginning in May, as long as they successfully complete the program.

The CNA program is three-and-a-half weeks long and limited to 10 students per course.

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@centralpennbusiness.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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