Background: Consumer-directed policies, including health savings accounts, have been proposed and implemented to involve individuals more directly with the cost of their health care. The hope is this will ultimately encourage providers to compete for patients based on price or quality, resulting in lower health care costs and better health outcomes.
Objective: To evaluate American hospital websites to learn whether hospitals advertise directly to consumers using price or quality data.
Methods: Structured review of websites of 10% of American hospitals (N=474) to evaluate whether price or quality information is available to consumers and identify what hospitals advertise about to attract consumers.
Results: On their websites, 1.3% (6/474) of hospitals advertised about price and 19.0% (90/474) had some price information available; 5.7% (27/474) of hospitals advertised about quality outcomes information and 40.9% (194/474) had some quality outcome data available. Price and quality information that was available was limited and of minimal use to compare hospitals. Hospitals were more likely to advertise about service lines (56.5%, 268/474), access (49.6%, 235/474), awards (34.0%, 161/474), and amenities (30.8%, 146/474).
Conclusions: Insufficient information currently exists for consumers to choose hospitals on the basis of price or quality, making current consumer-directed policies unlikely to realize improved quality or lower costs. Consumers may be more interested in information not related to cost or clinical factors when choosing a hospital, so consumer-directed strategies may be better served before choosing a provider, such as when choosing a health plan.
Keywords: commerce; hospitals; patients; quality indicators.