Information is Power: UTMB transparency initiative informs patients, improves care

May 17, 2016, 10:11 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
When you want to buy a new car or try a new restaurant, do you look at online reviews before making a decision? For a growing number of people, the answer is yes. But what about medical procedures?

If you’ve ever tried looking for medical reviews, you may have found that price information and quality data can be hard to come by. And if you do find it, how do you interpret the numbers?

Over the last several months, UTMB has begun launching a transparency initiative to make health care quality and safety performance information more accessible and easy to digest.

“We have better data out there for goods and services than we do about a fundamental, basic concern: our health,” said Mark Kirschbaum, RN, PhD, UTMB’s chief quality, safety and clinical information officer. “By and large, the consuming public has accepted that lack of information for way too long.”

He adds that our patients are using search engines to access health care information, and he believes younger generations are not going to put up with lack of data.

“The health industry is finally climbing into the rest of the world’s view that we’ve got to make performance information more universally available to our consuming public,” he said.

Reports ranging from patient experience and outcomes to price information on common inpatient services are now available at All reports are accompanied by explanations to help consumers interpret the data and ultimately make better health care decisions.

UTMB aims to be transparent with all of its outcomes. “To the extent that we are able, we are putting all the data out there,” said Kirschbaum. “At the same time, we also need to make sure we tell our story. For example, we may get great marks in some areas and not-so-good marks in others. Well, why is that? Many consumer reports don’t account for patient differences or the complexity of cases, so academic health centers and safety net hospitals that care for high-risk populations may not fare as well in certain categories. We need to explain that to consumers and help them understand the whole story.”

In addition to clinical outcomes, UTMB recently began posting patient satisfaction scores related to their UTMB physicians on UTMB’s Find A Physician website. The objective is twofold: (1) to promote UTMB providers by optimizing search engine results and (2) to continue efforts to improve and distinguish the patient experience.

“Currently, consumers have access to Yelp, Healthgrades, RateMDs, ZocDoc and other social media to provide any feedback they wish about providers, but it’s hard to know whether the reviews are valid or justified, and there are usually very few ratings for individual providers,” said Kirschbaum. “All the reviews posted on the UTMB Find A Physician website come from verified UTMB patients and are published word-for-word, both positive and negative.”

Once a specific physician’s profile is pulled up on the Find A Physician website, consumers can see patient comments along with the physician’s overall star-rating score. The five-star rating scale is based on provider assessment questions including whether the provider listened carefully, how much time they spent with the patient and how well they explained things. In an effort to offer the most accurate representation for each provider, only physicians who have a minimum of 30 completed surveys within the past year will have their ratings posted.

While the provider ratings and hospital quality and safety information can be a valuable tool to help consumers make more informed decisions regarding their health, Kirschbaum still recommends that patients talk to their primary care provider if they have any questions—because shopping for health care is more complex than buying a car.

“An informed public is going to be a better consumer and better patient at UTMB,” he said. “People should be more demanding of us, and we want to partner with them to help them be better consumers of their own health care. We are up to the challenge.”