Consumers choose "high-value" health care providers when given combined cost and quality information

Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381

When asked to choose a health care provider based solely on cost information, consumers tend to equate cost with quality and choose the more expensive option, according to a new study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study, "An experiment shows that a well-designed report on costs and quality can help consumers choose high-value health care," appeared in the March 2012 issue of Health Affairs. University of Oregon's Judith H. Hibbard, Dr.P.H., found that consumers equate cost with quality and worry that lower cost means a lower quality of care.

Because higher costs may indicate unnecessary services or inefficiencies, cost information alone does not help consumers get the best value for their health care dollar. But when the authors showed the 1,400 consumers participating in the study the right mix of cost and quality information, they were better able to choose high-value health care providers—those who deliver high-quality care at a lower cost. While many public reports are available to help consumers compare providers, including those sponsored by the 24 regional quality collaboratives that AHRQ supports through the Chartered Value Exchange Learning Network, few integrate cost and quality information. In addition, there has been little scientific evidence to guide the presentation of such information to help consumers choose high-value providers.

The study is one of five AHRQ-supported papers in the March issue of Health Affairs. Here are the conclusions of the four other papers. Maureen A. Smith of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that physician groups and clinics that have publicly reported their performance on diabetes care were more likely to adopt diabetes improvement interventions than those that did not. Gary J. Young of Boston's Northeastern University found that multi-stakeholder regional collaboratives have led the way in producing public reports about health care providers' performance.

Mark W. Friedberg and Cheryl L. Damberg of the RAND Corporation offer a five-point methodological checklist to guide those who want to improve their reporting methods. Finally, Harold S. Luft, of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute in California proposes the creation of a public-private data aggregator, which would receive data about care from both patients and providers and would be funded through fees charged to commercial users, such as health plans. The journal issue also includes papers on public reporting by Andrew Ryan of Cornell Medical College, Anthony A. Laverty of London's Imperial College, Stephanie Teleki and Maribeth Shannon of the California HealthCare Foundation, and Harvard's Anna D. Sinaiko.

Page last reviewed May 2012
Internet Citation: Consumers choose "high-value" health care providers when given combined cost and quality information: Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381. May 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.