How can consumers learn to recognize high-value health care providers?  

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As with many things in the twenty first century, value is often associated with cost and consumers are misled by attributing better value with higher cost. According to a study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), (March 2012, Health Affairs), consumers do think that more expensive health care providers are "better" than lower-priced providers. High value needs to be distinguished from high cost. It is possible for consumers to recognize these differences due to the amount of data and information available. Unfortunately, however, consumers do not always read or appreciate the meaning of readily-available information and are influenced by good advertising, promising something "free" or something "extra," for example; often something they do not need.   

As a starting point, consumers can gather information from "report cards" which are public reports rating the quality of care from various health care providers such as doctors, hospitals and so on. These report cards are not exhaustible reports and should be viewed cautiously in the whole decision-making process. From available information, consumers should feel encouraged to ask questions and insist on easily understood answers. Understanding the medical jargon that health care organizations talk about, and which is often found in literature aimed at consumers, also benefits consumers who may otherwise be overwhelmed by information. Those report cards that bombard consumers with technical information in the hope that they will be too confused and afraid to choose appropriately can be identified and ignored.

Consumers are often afraid of making poor decisions regarding their healthcare and rumors and unsubstantiated claims and stories abound. Consumers should be aware of providers who work with negative advertising and attempt to expose the shortfalls of others rather than their own strengths as a potential health care provider.

"High quality care at a lower cost" fits the definition of high-value health care. Whilst cost is always a factor, it becomes less important when high quality has been identified and consumers, feeling more confident, make informed decisions and are more likely to choose an appropriate provider where cost is not the determinant. Consumers and employers can work together to ensure that there is a universal benefit in choosing health care that is transparent in its methods and particularly in its cost structure. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) lists six points that can guide consumers and employers in decision-making. They are:  

safety, effectiveness, timeliness, patient-centeredness, equity, and efficiency.

When consumers are given comparable information they are better able to make informed decisions.  It is essential therefore that consumers consider all available options when making their final decision.