Data on Provider Quality, Costs Hard to Find, Study Reports

Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has focused on improving access to quality and cost data on health care providers, many Americans have a difficult time finding such information, according to a study conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And those who do find the information tend not to trust it.

The ACA’s initiatives to improve the quality of health care include investing in technology to enable patients to make better choices. For example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) offers Physician Compare, a website designed to help people find and choose quality providers enrolled in the Medicare program. The creation of Accountable Care Organizations, which are responsible for the cost and quality of their patients’ care, is another step toward quality improvement. The assumption is that Americans understand provider quality and can easily access the data they need to make wise health care choices. However, the survey, titled “Finding Quality Doctors: How Americans Evaluate Provider Quality in the United States,” found that this is not always the case.

The Study

AP-NORC interviewed approximately one thousand American adults via telephone on the following issues:

  • What they think “provider quality” means
  • How accessible provider quality information is to them
  • To what degree they trust provider quality information
  • The connection between provider quality and cost

When it comes to defining a quality health care provider, experts and American consumers have very different ideas, the survey found. Generally, when it comes to quality care, consumers value their relationship with their physician and their physician’s personality more than they value the effectiveness of the care they receive.

Quality Issues

Study findings related to provider quality include the following:

  • Less than 25% of the adults interviewed receive quality information on their physicians and other providers.
  • Most survey respondents said they cannot find provider quality information they can trust. Only one-third said they can easily find trustworthy information.
  • Interviewees overwhelmingly indicated that they would trust personal recommendations from physicians over government or third-party data on providers.
  • A majority believe that the quality of care can be improved by requiring physicians to report the effectiveness of their treatments and their patients’ satisfaction with their care.
  • People without health insurance find it even more difficult to get information about provider quality and cost.

Cost Issues

Participants in the survey also were asked to comment on health care costs. Key cost issues include the following:

  • Respondents said data on the cost of provider care is even harder to find than quality data; less than one-third of the survey respondents reported it is easy to find data that compares providers’ costs and quality.
  • Approximately 50 percent of those surveyed equate higher-quality health care with a higher cost, while 37 percent say there is no real relationship between the two.
  • When choosing a physician, most of the respondents rated quality as more important than cost—that is, they would pay more for a higher-quality provider who is out of their network. However, few reported that they have actually done this.

The good news is that despite these issues, most of the survey participants said they are happy with their physicians and the health care they receive. Approximately 80 percent rated their care as “very good” or “somewhat good,” and 76 percent would recommend their physician to friends and family. It will be interesting to see if these percentages change as provider quality and cost data become more readily available to Americans in the future.