With the considerable media attention devoted to healthcare quality and rankings of the nation's "top hospitals," one would think consumers would be inundated with the information they need to make educated choices about healthcare services. But based on the results of a recent Gallup Poll Panel healthcare survey*, it doesn't necessarily appear so.
A slim majority of respondents, 51%, say they don't have enough information about hospitals and healthcare facilities to make educated choices for healthcare services. Forty-three percent say they have the right amount of information, and only 5% say they have more information than they need. The perceived information deficit among many respondents may be disheartening to healthcare industry leaders who have devoted substantial resources to improving healthcare quality and educating people about it -- but it also may present an opportunity.
Information is an important factor in changing people's perceptions about the healthcare industry's progress toward improving healthcare quality. Using a 5-point scale, with 1 being "strongly disagree" and 5 being "strongly agree," respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they agree that sufficient progress has been made in the last five years to improve the quality of healthcare and reduce medical errors. Just 43% of respondents give a "4" or "5." But those perceptions differ according to respondents' beliefs that they are well informed. Among respondents who say they have too much information or the right amount of information to make educated choices, 49% agree that progress has been made. But among those who say they don't have enough information, only 37% agree.
Information appears to be significant, too, in determining respondents' level of confidence in the future of healthcare. A slim majority of respondents indicate they are confident their healthcare needs will be met in the future: 52% chose a "4" or "5" on a 5-point scale, where 1 means "not at all confident" and 5 means "very confident." Among the respondents who say they have too much information or the right amount of information to make educated choices for healthcare services, 66% chose a "4" or "5." However, among respondents who say they don't have enough information, this percentage drops to 39%.
Here's the challenge: Significant amounts of time and money have been devoted to improving the quality of healthcare services over the last five years. Many hospitals have been recognized nationally for their successes in reducing medical errors and improving health outcomes of the patients they serve. Yet, the information about these positive developments doesn't seem to be getting through to most people in a meaningful way. Hospital leaders must either double their efforts or rethink how they publicize their successes and educate the public on the quality of available healthcare services.
*These results are based on telephone surveys with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 18 and older, conducted in September 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.