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By Dolan Dalpoas, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital

[OCT. 11, 2004]  When consumers can freely access information about health care organizations in their communities, they can make informed decisions about the care they receive. Finding out that information has not always been easy, but the pendulum is starting to swing in the direction to favor the public -- and that's good news.

In July, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations launched "Quality Check," a website where consumers can compare the quality of treatment at hospitals across the country. By visiting, central Illinois residents may compare their hospitals with others -- within the state or around the nation.

This is an objective and clear source of information from a respected organization. JCAHO is the largest health care accrediting agency in the United States. This independent organization conducts performance evaluations on more than 16,000 health care provider systems and programs every three years. In 2002, ALMH received a 97 on a 100-point rating scale, placing it in the top 20 percent of all hospitals surveyed.

Let's face the truth. The health care system is increasingly complex. Many hospitals are reluctant to provide consumers with reliable information to help them judge quality. JCAHO's website allows consumers to compare hospitals in four areas: heart attacks, heart failures, pneumonia, and pregnancy and related conditions. Icons provide simple visual references to show how the hospitals are rated.

Consumers can see detailed and measurable information on why hospitals received the rating posted. Under pneumonia, for example, one of five measures is whether or not a patient 65 years and older was screened and vaccinated to prevent pneumonia from recurring. On the JCAHO website, consumers will learn that at ALMH, 72 percent of eligible patients received pneumonia vaccines, versus the national average of 38 percent. We earned a plus-sign icon and are committed to earning a star.

Participation is mandatory for hospitals that seek JCAHO accreditation. This mandatory requirement is a step in the right direction for consumers, but two other voluntary-reporting sites provide useful comparison data as well. Both are sponsored by the federal government's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. ALMH, as part of the Memorial Health System, participates in both.

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The National Voluntary Reporting Initiative, which can be accessed on the World Wide Web at, is open to the nearly 5,000 hospitals across the country and reports on 10 indicators in three key conditions: heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. Although approximately 70 percent of the nation's hospitals have committed to submitting data voluntarily, only 13 percent have data on the site.

Last year, ALMH was among the first hospitals in the nation to sign up for an innovative, three-year pilot project aimed at improving quality of patient care. The CMS/Premier Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration measures hospitals on 34 indicators in five key clinical areas: heart bypass surgery, heart failure, heart attack, community-acquired pneumonia, and hip and knee replacement. This voluntary project carries an incentive. Hospitals in the top 10 percent for a given condition, for example, will receive a 2 percent incentive in their Medicare reimbursements.

These national initiatives are important first steps toward developing consistent quality standards that will translate into improved patient care. All people deserve safe, quality health care. Hospitals that are serious about quality of care must provide consumers with the details that will help them make informed decisions about their health.

[Dolan Dalpoas, assistant administrator and director
of quality management, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital]

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