Web Site Helps Patients Shop for Hospitals

The federal government unveiled a new Web site on Friday that is designed to help consumers do more comparison shopping when it comes to their local hospitals.

The concept behind the Web site is that public disclosure will increase the quality of care hospitals provide — or those hospitals risk losing patients to nearby competitors who score better, said Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (search).

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.

CMS then compiled the information and placed it 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.

For example, say somebody wanted to see whether the Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock gave its heart attack patients aspirin upon arrival. Medical experts recommend such a measure because aspirin can prevent clotting, which can help prevent a second heart attack.

Those accessing the Web site could see that nationally, 91 percent of heart attack (search) patients were given aspirin upon arrival at a hospital. Statewide in Arkansas, 85 percent of such patients were given aspirin, and at Arkansas Heart Hospital itself, 95 percent of such patients were given aspirin.

Altogether, the government 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 (search), said hospitals welcomed the new Web site and worked closely with the government as it was developed.

"We're not perfect," Davidson said. "It is important to compare performance and improve wherever we can."