Friday, October 12, 2012

Government developing a consumer rating system for health information

A rating system for patient health information was announced in a Federal Register on Friday, October 5th, 2012. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS,) is asking that the system be approved.

Focusing on concerns of patient “health literacy” – the notice says –

Persons with limited health literacy face numerous health care challenges. They often have a poor understanding of basic medical vocabulary and health care concepts. A study of patients in a large public hospital showed that 26 percent did not understand when their next appointment was scheduled and 42 percent did not understand instructions to “take medication on an empty stomach.” In addition, limited health literacy leads to more medication errors, more and longer hospital stays, and a generally higher level of illness, resulting in an estimated excess cost for the US health care system of $50 billion to $73 billion per year

According to the notice, the agency's Health Information Rating System will focus especially on patient data provided by electronic health records. This material is “rarely written in a way that is understandable and actionable for patients with basic or below basic health literacy.” This group of patients includes about 77 million people according to a article found here. These people “often have a poor understanding of basic medical vocabulary and healthcare concepts.”

Agency officials expect the rating system to address the challenge of conveying information to patients by giving clinicians a method to determine the quality of the data their systems provide, or even to inform them that such resources are available.

A draft version of the rating system was applied by researchers at AHRQ to sample education materials on asthma and colonoscopy and indicated some of the material had “low understandability or low actionability.” The agency plans to next use consumer panels to test the accuracy of the rating system.

The Federal Register announcement can be found here, and is open to public comment until December 4, 2012.

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