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Letter: Data in a vacuum is not much help to consumers

Data in a vacuum is not much help to consumers

An Aug. 13 Buffalo News editorial noted that the federal government’s effort to bring more transparency to the health care market by releasing data regarding what hospitals charge for their services “could result in patients making more-informed, and possibly less-expensive, decisions about their treatment.” However, data by itself without context is not valuable for consumers.

Medicare has publicly posted 2012 Part B payment information on more than 880,000 physicians and other billable professionals in all 50 states. According to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the data makes possible analyses to compare 6,000 types of services and procedures along with payments received by individual providers. HHS also asserts that the information allows comparisons by physician, specialty, location, the types of medical service and procedures delivered, Medicare payment, and submitted charges.

But the American Medical Association has argued that the data has significant shortcomings regarding the accuracy and value of services rendered by physicians. In addition, because this data exists in raw forms that require interpretation and context, to make an impact on the average consumer it must be presented in ways that they can understand.

While helping patients understand how hospitals go about pricing things and what their costs are is important to promote greater transparency, communicating complex Medicare claims data to support consumer decision-making about health care is a daunting challenge. Simply arming consumers with more information alone will not make patients better consumers of health care nor reduce costs. After all, making wise decisions comes from insight.

Greg Slabodkin