Compare Your Next Medical Procedure

As part of a national movement to provide health-care consumers with more information, the Georgia Hospital Association has launched a Web site that allows patients to check out the cost and quality of common medical procedures at the state's 141 acute care hospitals.

In fact, the site — — is chock-full of so many facts and figures it can be hard to navigate.
"It's a gold mine of material," said Bill Vaughan, a health care analyst for Consumers Union, the not-for-profit organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, "but mining is difficult work."

Once they get the hang of the site, Georgians can learn how quickly they may receive an antibiotic for pneumonia at various hospitals or whether a stop-smoking program will be part of their treatment for a heart condition. They can compare hospitals to see which performs a procedure the most often, or charges less for it.

Among the things they won't find are hospitals' specific numbers on patient mortality, infections or the rate of patient readmissions. Those factors are combined into a single "quality index score" on the site from the Partnership for Health and Accountability, a collaborative statewide program that includes the hospital association.

While the site now shows hospitals' listed prices for various procedures, patients with insurance probably won't pay that amount. The Hospital Association plans to add information from insurance carriers so patients can calculate their actual out-of-pocket costs.

Specialty-care hospitals are not included on the site, but plans are in place to add psychiatric and rehabilitation centers. Ambulatory care, long-term institutions and pharmacies are not addressed.

The Web page "is not the be-all end-all yet," said Vi Naylor, the Georgia Hospital Association's executive vice president, "but we're certainly poised to be." Institutions provide their own information, but "it goes through all sorts of checks related to accuracy and completeness," Naylor said. "I hang my hat on that information."

Agencies that review the material include the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which looks at outcomes from treatment as part of the accreditation process. The commission prescribes the methods for gathering data.

Patients are "hungry for help in making decisions" about their care, said Bill Bornstein, chief quality officer for Emory Healthcare, the hospital system affiliated with Emory University. But, he said, patients shouldn't make determinations based on numbers alone.

"It's very difficult to account for differences in patient population, degrees of illness, medical education and how all those things factor together," Bornstein said. "Georgia, like everywhere else, has a spectrum of hospitals that range from small rural hospitals to major academic medical centers like Emory. . . . Trying to incorporate all that into a single quality index is difficult."

Wayne Oliver, the Right to Know project director of the Center for Health Transformation founded by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), said the Web site could make hospitals better.

"Just having the information published on the Web site makes health care providers compete not only on price and quality, but also on providing the kind of care patients need to receive," he said.

The Georgia Hospital Association put together the site in response to state and national pushes for transparency in health care, Naylor said.

Consumer groups have called for years for more information about the cost and quality of health care. In August, President Bush directed the agencies that administer federal health insurance programs to share price and quality information about health care providers. Gov. Sonny Perdue followed with an order creating an advisory board to examine how to provide consumers with more health care information.

The association prepared the Web site last year, based on a model from Wisconsin that has been used by at least 10 other states, Naylor said.

Georgia's new site may save taxpayers money, Naylor said, since its cost is borne by the hospital association. "That's one less thing the state has to do," she said.

The hospital association will continue refining the site based on user feedback, said spokesman Kevin Bloye. "We want to make sure this site is as consumer friendly as possible," he said.


1. Basic or advanced search
Selecting a basic search allows users to check charges and information for 64 types of medical conditions.
An advanced search offers users the ability to obtain information about all types of hospital stays throughout the state.

A simple pulldown menu asks for age, county, city/town and the regional or statewide facility.

3. What's your problem?
The basic search gives you general categories such as childbirth, psychiatric, bones, joints and muscles and several more. Each one shows a subcategory when you scroll over with the mouse.

The advanced search asks for specific categories such as diseases of the eye, respiratory system, mental disorders, etc. Subsequent menus narrow down the focus of your medical needs.

4. Results
An easy-to-read tab chart gives comparisons on lengths of stay, the number of cases (of your specified medical need) and average prices.