Can transparency save health care

Three quarters of health care leaders believe increased transparency — the public reporting of quality and pricing by name of hospital, physician practice, or health care provider — is essential to improve the performance of the United States’ health care system, according to the Commonwealth Fund/Modern Healthcare Health Opinion Leaders Survey. Improved transparency can affect health care costs, but only to a small degree, according to respondents.

Two-thirds of opinion leaders see improved transparency as a means of reducing health care spending, but opinion varies greatly on how large an effect transparency would have on cost. Seventeen percent say it will reduce spending by more than 5 percent, while 31 percent think it will reduce spending by 1 percent to 5 percent.

And transparency may be the “stick” in the “carrot and stick” model — 81 percent of respondents think that more widespread public reporting could stimulate providers to improve their performance, while increased transparency could also help patients make more informed decisions about their health care.

“Transparency is important because it motivates physicians and hospitals to assess and improve their care,” says Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. “For those providers who aren’t doing well, public reporting serves as a wake-up call to identify problems and improve performance.”

As with any new initiative, there are barriers to overcome. Respondents identified the logistical issues of collecting data and making information comparable across health plans and comprehensible to patients as potential obstacles to implementation. Survey respondents named the following as key strategies to improve health care quality and cost transparency:

  • Sharing the cost of data collection for performance measurement among providers, insurers, and the government (75%)
  • Ensuring widespread adoption of health information technology (88%)
  • Establishing a new public/private national entity to set standards for measurement and reporting and to be accountable for health system transparency (54%)
  • Paying providers based on publicly reported quality and price data (54%)