Ted Simons: The state department of health services today launched AZ hospital compare. It’s an online, searchable database designed to help consumers make educated health care decisions. Here to tell us more is Donna Courtney, data manager for the department of health services. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Donna Courtney: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of az hospital compare.
Donna Courtney: Well, this is a actual that was developed at the department of health services. It's a website built for the department of health services we use as a part of our partnership with the federal government, the agency for healthcare research and quality. The health department has been collecting data from all Arizona hospitals for many years. There's a state law that requires it. But until now, we have not had a good way to turn all of that data we collected into information that's usable to the average health consumer and that's part of what az hospital compare is all about.
Ted Simons: How long has that data been collected?
Donna Courtney: The statute was written in the late 80's and the collection has been going on since that time.
Ted Simons: Helping folks make educated healthcare choices. How are they educated? It's just basically you go online and go from there?
Donna Courtney: There are a number of ways that you can query the database. There's an area for hospital quality. There are various national quality indicators that look at things like cesarean sections or hospital infections, you can compare those rates of occurrences from one hospital to the next. Another thing that can be helpful to consumers is that we know hospitals that perform a given procedure many times generally do better and have better outcomes than a hospital that doesn't do that procedure very much. So, for example, if I was going to have a knee replacement done, I would want to see who does the most knee replacements. So this website would allow consumers to do that.
Ted Simons: It seems like there's four basic categories here, at least when I went to the website. The first one was and this was I don't know how you're quantifying this, care costs charges. Let's -- the care, we can move on. The costs and the charges. How in the world do you get a handle on that?
Donna Courtney: Well, partially from the data that we collect and partially from the tools that are built into the software tool that we use to build the website. The data that we collect from every hospital, the patient records contain a total charge, the total charges incurred by that patient for that visit. It doesn't mean that's what the hospital got reimbursed for the care but that's their gross charges for that visit. Now, the agency for healthcare research and quality, because they are a federal agency and they work closely with health and human services, they have access to all of the financial reporting that Medicare certified facilities are required to report to the federal government. So they took that financial information and created hospital-specific cost to charge ratios. It's basically a methodology by which you have this algorithm, you apply it to the total charges and you get an estimated cost. So you have the total gross charges and you have an estimate based on the hospital's own financial reporting to the federal government of what that cost, the care actually costs to provide.
Ted Simons: So the idea of you go in and you're expecting to pay "X" and "Y" but, all of a sudden, "Z" happens and something else happens over here, that can be worked out through this equation?
Donna Courtney: Well, the idea of the cost to charge ratio is to give the consumers, especially the uninsured consumer some idea of what they might be charged for their care and more importantly what it's actually costing the hospital to provide that care. It arms them with information so that they can go to the hospital and say I'm having a knee replacement, I would like to have it here. I see your average charges are $20,000 but I see if only costs you $5,000 to do it so I would like to negotiate with you because I'm not insured. I want to negotiate for this procedure.
Ted Simons: And good luck plugging complications into that. We can forget about that one right now right?
Donna Courtney: There actually is some reporting within the website where you can look at, for example, there are normal newborns, a baby with no complications and there are areas you can look at babies with complications. Same thing with most conditions. There are with and without complications.
Ted Simons: We talked about the hospital quality ratings. There's another rubric here, maps of avoidable hospital stays. What is that?
Donna Courtney: That is a very nifty part of the tool. You can basically go in and look at various conditions. Basically hospitalizations that shouldn't happen. For example, being hospitalized for asthma. A person has asthma and their care is being properly managed, they should never end up in the hospital. That's a very interesting section because you can look at hospitalizations for asthma and then look at the cost and estimates of how much money could be saved if we reduced those hospitalizations by any percentage.
Ted Simons: That is different than comparing hospital to hospital?
Donna Courtney: Correct, that's a different module within the website.
Ted Simons: You're educating the consumer in a different way.
Donna Courtney: Yes.
Ted Simons: Last one, county rates of hospital use.
Donna Courtney: That is another area where you can look and see, given conditions by county in the state of Arizona, for example, if you look -- Maricopa County has a high rate of hospitalizations for dehydration. If you look up north, that's where you might see bubonic plague, that's an issue up north.
Ted Simons: This information sounds like it would be very educational. Why now?
Donna Courtney: Well, the tool, this tool that we used began being developed at the federal level around and there were some beta phases that they went through and the tool is free, available to states. So it's just a matter of having the tool available. The price is right. It's free to state partners and we're a partner in that project so it costs the taxpayers of Arizona $ for the health department to build this website.
Ted Simons: And real quickly the website again --
Donna Courtney: Az hospital compare.
Ted Simons: And just go have a --
Donna Courtney: Go poke at it. [ Laughter ]
Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Donna Courtney: Thank you for having me.