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Suffering from health report card overload? Turn to the Informed Patient Institute

Suffering from health report card overload? Turn to the Informed Patient Institute

With new health care report cards popping up all the time, patients need a way to decide which ones will help them make better decisions.

Enter the Informed Patient Institute.

For the past two years, the Informed Patient Institute (IPI) has been providing a detailed analysis of online health report cards – covering nursing homes and physicians for now and other health areas in the future – to show consumers where they can find the best information.

IPI is a private, nonprofit group, funded by foundations– including the California HealthCare Foundation -- and individual donors. It provides guidance to other consumer-focused organizations, such as Consumers Union. As it states in its mission, IPI wants to "facilitate access to credible online information about health care quality and patient safety. IPI does not rate individual health facilities or professionals. Instead, we assess the usefulness of the wealth of online report cards – starting with nursing homes. IPI also advocates for making more-and more useful-health care quality information available to consumers."

Antidote will have an interview with IPI's founder, Carol Cronin, next week. First, I wanted to walk you through some of the great features of IPI's work.

1. It uses a clear rating system. Organizations can receive an A through F grade, with explanations for what each means. IPI always tells you "what we like" and "what we don't like." The New York State Health Department's Nursing Home Profile received one of the few A grades on the site. IPI says the site, "provides wide range of information including state survey results, complaints and quality of care provided" and that it "allows you to compare nursing homes and dig deeper into the ones that interest you." But it also notes that the site "does not have information on costs, nursing home staffing, or resident or family satisfaction with the home."

2. It allows for exceptions to the rules. If a site has "unique content" but doesn't quite make the grade in other criteria, IPI gives the site a "U." The Oregon Department of Human Services' Substantiated Facility Complaints site could use some website design help and, IPI says, that the only way to find out details about the complaints is by "by writing or calling the Department and charges may apply." But IPI has decided that the content is unique enough that it deserves a look because the site "provides a database of substantiated complaints about nursing, assisted living and other facilities" for multiple years.

3. It simplifies users' options. If you click on a state like Alabama, you will see that the only option for you to click is "Physicians" because there is no nursing home content related to Alabama. California, by contrast has sites that cover both. All the areas that IPI hopes to cover in the future are included in the drop-down menu, but only the topics that have content are clickable.

4. It provides good context. For each state, on the right side of the screen, you will see a Top 10 ranking of the sites IPI has reviewed that contain content about that state. For Montana, Medicare's Nursing Home Compare is the top site with a B rating while the Montana Informed Patient site receives a D.

5. It takes the broad view, too. Scroll down to the bottom of the state listings and you will see "National Sites." For physicians, the National Committee for Quality Assurance's Recognized Physician Directory earned a B and the site's top score while the WebMD Physician Directory earned a D and the lowest score. And for nursing homes, Medicare's Nursing Home Compare received the highest score. SeniorDECISION received the lowest score.

Antidote would like to see a few more details about each site. I also wish that the reviews were linkable. If so, you would have seen links to the site throughout this post. It also would be nice to see the actual numerical scores in addition to the letter grades. All in all, though, the site is a huge benefit to consumers.

Finally, someone has sifted through the pile of health care report cards to provide patients with some clear choices about the sites that work.

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