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May 23, 2001

Health-care quality expert urges more data to measure health quality

The nation's health-care system should identify specific quality measures, release them publicly, and use them to measurably improve quality of care, a leading expert on health-care quality has told The Council's Health Committee.

Armed with these data, consumers can play a meaningful role in helping reshape the delivery, quality, and cost of health care, Bruce Boissonnault, executive director of the Niagara Health Quality Coalition (NHQC), said at the Health Committee's May 22 meeting.

Members of the NHQC have developed the most comprehensive, public array of quality measures in the United States for western New York hospitals. Moreover, the NHQC uses its uniform measures in a region-wide continuous quality improvement initiative.

"The goal must be to standardize some of the providers' key quality measures, to empower consumers to use the data, and to facilitate collaborative projects which will improve care region-wide," Boissonault said.

"For example, Western New York has more than 100 such collaborative projects among its hospitals which are in direct response to what we are learning from our NHQC patient survey project."

Consumers need the useful information that quality-measuring data provide to make informed health-care choices, he noted.

A good way to provide consumers with some of the needed data is quality report cards, which many states, including New York, have endorsed. These report cards typically provide information about how often and how successfully procedures or treatments are done by area providers.

These report cards are necessary but not sufficient, Boissonnault said. If all politics are local, so is most change in health care quality and cost. Thus, a regional mechanism is essential to help ensure that quality and cost measures lead to improved care.

The NHQC is a coalition of employer leaders working with hospital CEOs, health-plan CEOs, and physician leaders in Western New York. Their goal is to maximize the quality of health care while containing health-care costs.

Through such publicly reported activities as surveys of recently discharged hospital patients and development of clinical outcome measures for hospitals, NHQC has prompted a lively ongoing dialogue in Western New York about issues of health-care quality and cost, said Elliott Shaw, director of government affairs and The Council's specialist in health care.

NHQC uses media coverage and its nationally award-winning Web site, www.myhealthfinder.com, to empower consumers with information about the quality and cost of Western New York health care options.