Increasing Transparency of Hospital Acute Care Capabilities

Healthcare systems increasingly focus on being “patient- centered” as one way to improve quality of care. In practice, this means helping consumers know more and facilitate their involvement in healthcare decisions. For patients or consumers to become actively involved, they must have access to easily understandable information that delineates their alternatives, especially when unscheduled medical care is required. Most importantly, consumers require information that helps them properly match their medical needs with appropriate care.

Even though electronic media, such as the Internet, supplies a plethora of medical information, few sources exist that help consumers quickly and accurately make informed decisions about urgent or emergent care needs.

The Developing Recommendations for Increasing Transparency of Hospital Acute Care Capabilities project funded by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response concentrated on delineating what information consumers need in order to make confident and informed healthcare decisions related to the acute care capabilities available in U.S. hospitals. Research conducted with stakeholders, a panel of experts​ and consumers indicated that having access to critical information about each medical care facility is key to making appropriate decisions about unscheduled medical care.

Stakeholders and consumers were asked about the issues and concerns they consider when making a decision about where to seek unscheduled medical care. They listed general topics such as proximity to their location, severity of injury or illness, type of injury or illness treated, age of patient served, and hospital designations or capabilities (for example, labor and delivery services or not).

Each of these topics was explored further to delineate the decision criteria that would enable consumers (and healthcare providers) to confidently determine where to seek unscheduled acute medical care that appropriately matches their medical need. In broad terms, consumers want to know about:

      • Location—Where is the facility? How close is it to my location? How do I get there?
      • Hours—Are they open now?
      • Insurance—Does this facility accept my insurance?
      • Wait time—How long will I have to wait to be treated?
      • Services/capabilities—Can this facility treat my problem or my loved one’s problem?
      • Reputation—Is this a good facility?
      • Physicians—Does my doctor have privileges there?
      • Hospital type—Is this a pediatric hospital?

*This initiative is in the second year of funding to test the usability of the tools developed, allow for modification of the existing hospital self- assessment and hospital verification tool, and provide feedback from stakeholders on the importance of this information for their acute care needs.​ ​​​​