Friday, February 29, 2008

What's New in Consumer Health?

Le Lavement, Abraham Bosse. Interior scene in which an apothecary brings a clyster to a bedridden woman while a maid brings a chamber pot-chair. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Debut: a casual, occasional summary of new sites, reports, and news pertinent to consumer health information. NOT limited to SL.
Purpose: interest & awareness

I keep seeing these things and wondering if they'd make a good display at Healthinfo Island. However, there's already so much there that another display - not sure it would be the best way to do this. So this is a trial balloon. Maybe I'll put an RSS feed on the Island, - but I'd prefer to have contributions from the community. Ideas?

Meanwhile, today I have 2 new things to mention. First is the Google Health 'teaser' complete with images written up on their blog. Competing with MSN to the starting gate, Google's trying to build a personal health portal that would let consumers upload their own health records, list meds, even request an appointment. Now in beta with the Cleveland Clinic, the concept promises much (debate, revenue potential, linking of personal health info to quality resources, legal and confidential concern). It's going to happen, but the development will be slow and massively publicized. Something to watch. Meanwhile, there are existing if more limited applications currently available (I cannot recommend any but here's a Wikipedia article, if you're interested), with what looks like a fair bibliography (how's that for cautious wording?) if you want to know more.

Second, a new report about 50 US top hospitals has been issued and is available on the web (note that it's PDF). Criteria for grading is provided, including infection rates. From the intro:
"Among the Medicare beneficiaries admitted to U.S. hospitals during 2004 - 2006, 171,424 lives may have been
saved if all hospitals performed at the level of Distinguished Hospitals for Clinical Excellence.
For the same time period, 9,671 patients may have avoided an inhospital major complication if they had
been treated at Distinguished Hospitals for Clinical Excellence.
HealthGrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals are those hospitals that have consistently ranked among the top five
percent in the nation for clinical quality. These elite organizations represent the best of the best and set the
quality standard for American hospitals."

Disclaimer: I have not completely read this report or the white paper on methodology.

Further disclaimer: Rating healthcare institutions based upon such things as infection and mortality rates may be questionable. How are regional and local differences considered? Are the patients treated generally sicker (or less sick) than the patients for other hospitals, and does that affect the ratings? I would take the claims with a judicious grain or two of salt. Turns out that the report does not include military hospitals, and uses data from Medicare patients only. Does this bring up further questions? At any rate, knowing about the criteria doesn't hurt. It's something that might empower you as a US healthcare consumer (and that's what consumer health librarianship is all about).

An even further disclaimer: Rating hospitals overall is sort of like rating a cleaning product intended for all surfaces. Usually you will be concerned with whether it leaves streaks on your windows - and some will be great for floors, but lousy for upholstery. Mortality, infection, and return rates per procedure (for instance) are probably more meaningful to the individual planning for surgery.