Background: In the context of the Affordable Care Act, there is extensive emphasis on making provider quality transparent and publicly available. Online public reports of quality exist, but little is known about how visitors find reports or about their purpose in visiting.
Objective: To address this gap, we gathered website analytics data from a national group of online public reports of hospital or physician quality and surveyed real-time visitors to those websites.
Methods: Websites were recruited from a national group of online public reports of hospital or physician quality. Analytics data were gathered from each website: number of unique visitors, method of arrival for each unique visitor, and search terms resulting in visits. Depending on the website, a survey invitation was launched for unique visitors on landing pages or on pages with quality information. Survey topics included type of respondent (eg, consumer, health care professional), purpose of visit, areas of interest, website experience, and demographics.
Results: There were 116,657 unique visitors to the 18 participating websites (1440 unique visitors/month per website), with most unique visitors arriving through search (63.95%, 74,606/116,657). Websites with a higher percent of traffic from search engines garnered more unique visitors (P=.001). The most common search terms were for individual hospitals (23.25%, 27,122/74,606) and website names (19.43%, 22,672/74,606); medical condition terms were uncommon (0.81%, 605/74,606). Survey view rate was 42.48% (49,560/116,657 invited) resulting in 1755 respondents (participation rate=3.6%). There were substantial proportions of consumer (48.43%, 850/1755) and health care professional respondents (31.39%, 551/1755). Across websites, proportions of consumer (21%-71%) and health care professional respondents (16%-48%) varied. Consumers were frequently interested in using the information to choose providers or assess the quality of their provider (52.7%, 225/427); the majority of those choosing a provider reported that they had used the information to do so (78%, 40/51). Health care professional (26.6%, 115/443) and consumer (20.8%, 92/442) respondents wanted cost information and consumers wanted patient narrative comments (31.5%, 139/442) on the public reports. Health care professional respondents rated the experience on the reports higher than consumers did (mean 7.2, SD 2.2 vs mean 6.2, SD 2.7; scale 0-10; P<.001).
Conclusions: Report sponsors interested in increasing the influence of their reports could consider using techniques to improve search engine traffic, providing cost information and patient comments, and improving the website experience for both consumers and health care professionals.
Keywords: Internet/statistics and numerical data; consumer behavior; consumer health information; quality of health care; search engine.