By: Jim McManus Source: Boston Business Journal

“Quality of care” has become a rallying point for an army of health care reformers around the nation. Numerous conferences and scholarly journals explore the performance metrics of practitioners, criteria and standards, and health care outcomes. The goal is to measure and ultimately improve health care service delivery.

Equally important is a little-discussed but vital issue for health care reform: the quality of health care information.

In the area of health care, the quality of information is critical. For patients, it can mean the difference between life and death. For businesses, the quality of information affects reimbursements, investments and profitability.

The Internet puts a world of health care information at everyone’s fingertips. Some is credible and helpful. Some is inaccurate and even harmful.

Federal and state government agencies now publish vast health care information resources, but they can be overwhelming in the amount of information offered.

Hospitals and patient groups provide a mixed bag in terms of the quality of information. Some are excellent, while others seem to treat consumer-facing information as an afterthought.

These and other Web sources need to continually refine their pages, improving the content, design and ease of navigation.

Perhaps the greatest disparity in the quality of health care information can be found on blogs and patient chat rooms. The Internet is a hypochondriac’s dream come true. Some of the best health care blogs give hope to those who believe the Web can aid the progress of the human race. They are thoughtful, unbiased and informative. Chat rooms can give hope to newly diagnosed patients, connect people with resources and healers, and inform visitors about new discoveries.

In assessing the quality of health care information, a few principles are useful:

·       Consider the source: Who has paid to gather and disseminate the information? If it is a group with a financial interest in a product or service, account for that in evaluating the results.

·       The scientific method works: If health care information has been subjected to rigorous, unbiased testing over time, it is more likely to be useful.

·       Get a second opinion: It is worth the time to check another source — and there are many — for the accuracy and reliability of health care information.

The quality of information will emerge as a major issue in health care reform, driven by consumer demand and the emergence of transparency as a more urgent priority for health care industry stakeholders.

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