Health care organizations start using Internet to measure outcomes

New York 15 April 1998 One of the recurrent creeds in the postmodern consumersociety is "getting the best product or service at the lowest price". Citizens and patients, who heavily pay for their health care, are increasingly forcing the hospitals to show that the service they are offering, results in higher quality at a lower cost. In the United States, health care organizations more and more are launching outcomes research projects in order to discover alternative ways to optimise their efficiency. For this purpose, some of them use Internet-based benchmarking software, allowing them to regularly retrieve relevant outcomes data from similar institutions or databases, to compare these figures with their own and search for methods to improve them.

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One of the recurrent creeds in the postmodern consumersociety is "getting the best product or service at the lowest price". Citizens and patients, who heavily pay for their health care, are increasingly forcing the hospitals to show that the service they are offering, results in higher quality at a lower cost. In the United States, health care organizations more and more are launching outcomes research projects in order to discover alternative ways to optimise their efficiency. For this purpose, some of them use Internet-based benchmarking software, allowing them to regularly retrieve relevant outcomes data from similar institutions or databases, to compare these figures with their own and search for methods to improve them.

At the 350-bed Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, the specialized Internet-based software has been applied to try and reduce the normal length of stay of patients suffering from respiratory ailments. The medical specialists tracked down the suitable information from the state's hospital discharge database in order to find other Californian health care facilities with better performances in this specific department. Once they succeeded, they contacted their colleagues to detect the reasons for the shorter inpatient stays and implemented the same processes in their own ventilator therapy unit. Consequently, the respiratory patients only needed to spend half as long time at Dominican Hospital.

Outcomes measurements actually consist in the collection, storage, analysis and reporting of clinical and financial data to find out which care methods are offering the most satisfactory results at a fair price. All different kinds of parameters are taken into account. Some of them are patient-centred, others are focused on the type of disease, still others deal with the exact resources and money that have been spent. It is not always a question of comparing one's own results with those of others but also a useful means of organizing an internal audit. This type of research projects gives the hospitals an excellent opportunity to identify the most cost-effective and patient-friendly therapies, as well as to design optimum protocols and guidelines for health delivery, as required by the official accreditation institutions.

Besides the Internet-based software, health care organizations still have some other information technology applications at their disposal for precise outcomes measurement. They can rely on data repositories, storing financial and clinical data; on surveys, filled in by patients to express their degree of satisfaction; and on computer-based patient records systems, suitable for profound clinical analysis. Nevertheless, relatively few hospitals are making use of the new technologies because they are convinced the systems are too expensive in proportion to their added value. They are not willing to incur greater risk and pressure for the sake of higher efficiency, according to the medical and informations experts.

Still, the acquisition of accurate data and information is the only way to build an efficient health care organization, delivering superior quality of care at the lowest possible cost. In order to obtain and analyse the huge amount of necessary data, the hospitals simply cannot do without a computer-based system. If they want to survive as a vital medical facility for a long time, they will have to be converted to the state-of-the-art methods of modern outcomes measurement research. You can find more details on this subject in the article, written by Jennifer A. Gilbert, which has appeared on the Health Data Management Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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