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A new consumer guide to 23 area hospitals will provide one key tool -- information -- to area residents in need of health care, according to the automakers who publish the report.

When it comes to medical care, information is the most valuable asset a patient can have, said the team behind "Buffalo Hospital Profiles: A Consumer Guide," a second annual on-line guide put out by General Motors and Ford, two of Buffalo-Niagara's largest employers.

"An individual armed with this information should be able to ask some hard questions," said Dr. Norbert Goldfield, an internist who served as the project's lead clinician.

"Health care is one of the most personal decisions a person can confront. We want to help them make those decisions," said Philip J. Ransdell, manager of health care initiatives for GM.

The consumer guide -- available to GM and Ford employees at and to other Western New Yorkers at -- does not provide an overall ranking of area hospitals or a national comparison.

Instead, the guide breaks local hospitals down by various kinds of procedures -- such as heart attacks, stroke, and childbirth -- and then offers performance measures in those areas. Factors such as the number of cases handled, patient satisfaction, average length of stay and mortality rates are included.

One local group that blasted the report last year, the Western New York Healthcare Association, gave the publication high marks this time around.

The data and analysis included in the new report are much better than last year, said William Pike, association president.

"We've changed our opinion significantly," said Pike. "They've made a lot of progress. This year's report, we think, is much more user-friendly, more easily readable by a consumer, and they (the automakers) have made a number of improvements in the science of the report and in its methodology."

Advocates for health-care consumers said the guide is part of a growing national trend.

Patients across the country want to know exactly what they are getting when it comes to medical care, advocates said.

"People are now more interested in this, as well they should be," said Maryann Napoli, associate director of the Center for Medical Consumers, an advocacy group on the state and national levels.

Still, Napoli said, consumers should be wary of simplistic reports based on data that may not be applicable to the way it is being analyzed. Comparisons should be made with other data sources, such as the center's Web site,

"Consumer satisfaction is important, but it's not the whole picture," Napoli said. "We don't have a lot of the information we need to make informed decisions."

For example, Napoli said, it would be highly useful to patients to know details about an individual doctor's performance. Even when a patient asks about that, the doctor will often respond with clinical success rates, not his or her own performance record, she said.

"We don't even know what individual doctor's success rates are. We have the right to know the volume and the death rates," Napoli said.

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