New NHS Tool to Increase Health Care Transparency
Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) is making a radical move towards greater transparency in health care. The goal is to help patients avoid doctors whose practice of medicine or errors in administering treatment has led to poor outcomes for patients. The result is a new website (currently in beta) called My NHS, which allows anyone to access NHS data to compare performance among different hospitals and surgeons.
The effort was led by Sir Bruce Keogh, a former heart surgeon and the current NHS England Medical Director. He believes that health care providers ought to be able to describe and defend their practices, and that patients ought to be able to make informed health care decisions based on hard data. The website was launched in the fall of 2014.
Currently, My NHS provides outcome data for 5,000 British surgeons and also publishes data on food quality, patient safety, staffing and other areas of hospital care quality. Of course, some surgeons are less than enthusiastic about the new development. They claim that the publication of mortality rates makes patients more risk-averse when it comes to treatment, which is not in patients’ best interest.
It’s too soon to collect meaningful data on the impact of the new tool. However, Keogh says that a shift to a results-driven “peer-review” culture will lead to better results in all professions, including health care.
How an American Model Might Look
Back home in the States, some American health care professionals are beginning to wonder whether that model could work here. Medical errors cause around 440,000 deaths a year, so any tool that could assist in reducing this source of preventable death would be a huge leap forward. Of course, one key difference between our two countries involves the administration of health care: in the UK, the NHS is a government-run agency that provides health care for all citizens, while the U.S. has does not have a universal health care system.
Still, it may be possible to institute independent rating systems to help American patients identify top hospitals and doctors. Such systems could even reduce the frequency of malpractice, since doctors who commit the highest number of medical errors would not get as many patients. Peer review, or patient review, could potentially drive up the overall quality of American health care.
A few such rating systems are already in place. Consumer Reports publishes data on various measures of care quality. The Leapfrog group has launched a web tool called the Hospital Safety Score which focuses on medical errors. This searchable database lets the public search hospitals by location, and then view a grade based on a given hospital’s success in avoiding preventable harm. The site has thus far graded 127 hospitals in Pennsylvania.
The greatest challenge for tools such as these is choosing consistent metrics across the board. Without a centralized health service like the NHS, these web tools run the risk of comparing apples and oranges. With an increase in data collection and standardized methods, these tools may in the future become invaluable to patients and their families in reducing the risk of suffering from malpractice.
- New York Times: To Make Hospitals Less Deadly, a Dose of Data