Context: Publicly released performance reports ("report cards") are expected to foster competition on the basis of quality. Proponents frequently cite the need to inform patient choice of physicians and hospitals as a central element of this strategy.
Objective: To examine the awareness and use of a statewide consumer guide that provides risk-adjusted, in-hospital mortality ratings of hospitals that provide cardiac surgery.
Design: Telephone survey conducted in 1996.
Setting: Pennsylvania, where since 1992, the Pennsylvania Consumer Guide to Coronary Artery Bypass Graft [CABG] Surgery has provided risk-adjusted mortality ratings of all cardiac surgeons and hospitals in the state.
Participants: A total of 474 (70%) of 673 eligible patients who had undergone CABG surgery during the previous year at 1 of 4 hospitals listed in the Consumer Guide as having average mortality rates between 1% and 5% were successfully contacted.
Main outcome measures: Patients' awareness of the Consumer Guide, their knowledge of its ratings, their degree of interest in the report, and barriers to its use.
Results: Ninety-three patients (20%) were aware of the Consumer Guide, but only 56 (12%) knew about it before surgery. Among these 56 patients, 18 reported knowing the hospital rating and 7 reported knowing the surgeon rating, 11 said hospital and/or surgeon ratings had a moderate or major impact on their decision making, but only 4 were able to specify either or both correctly. When the Consumer Guide was described to all patients, 264 (56%) were "very" or "somewhat" interested in seeing a copy, and 273 (58%) reported that they probably or definitely would change surgeons if they learned that their surgeon had a higher than expected mortality rate in the previous year. A short time window for decision making and a limited awareness of alternative hospitals within a reasonable distance of home were identified as important barriers to use.
Conclusions: Only 12% of patients surveyed reported awareness of a prominent report on cardiac surgery mortality before undergoing cardiac surgery. Fewer than 1% knew the correct rating of their surgeon or hospital and reported that it had a moderate or major impact on their selection of provider. Efforts to aid patient decision making with performance reports are unlikely to succeed without a tailored and intensive program for dissemination and patient education.