To explore hospital comparison Web sites for general surgery based on: (1) a systematic Internet search, (2) Web site quality evaluation, and (3) exploration of possible areas of improvement.
A systematic Internet search was performed to identify hospital quality comparison Web sites in September 2006. Publicly available Web sites were rated on accessibility, data/statistical transparency, appropriateness, and timeliness. A sample search was performed to determine ranking consistency.
Six national hospital comparison Web sites were identified: 1 government (Hospital Compare [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]), 2 nonprofit (Quality Check [Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations] and Hospital Quality and Safety Survey Results [Leapfrog Group]), and 3 proprietary sites (names withheld). For accessibility and data transparency, the government and nonprofit Web sites were best. For appropriateness, the proprietary Web sites were best, comparing multiple surgical procedures using a combination of process, structure, and outcome measures. However, none of these sites explicitly defined terms such as complications. Two proprietary sites allowed patients to choose ranking criteria. Most data on these sites were 2 years old or older. A sample search of 3 surgical procedures at 4 hospitals demonstrated significant inconsistencies.
Patients undergoing surgery are increasingly using the Internet to compare hospital quality. However, a review of available hospital comparison Web sites shows suboptimal measures of quality and inconsistent results. This may be partially because of a lack of complete and timely data. Surgeons should be involved with quality comparison Web sites to ensure appropriate methods and criteria.