"The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." -- Sydney J. Harris

Why consumers care about health data

John SantaBy John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center

Over the decades, Consumer Reports has become synonymous with trusted ratings and reviews of consumer goods and services. In 2012, we broke new ground by evaluating Minnesota and two other states on work that’s been done to measure health care.

First, let me commend Minnesota for being among the most advanced in the country in health care delivery and consumer outreach. Minnesota can boast of having top performers in many rating categories, including health insurance, hospitals and heart surgeons, as well as top brands (e.g., Mayo Clinic, BCBS, HealthPartners, and Park Nicollet) that garner a high degree of trust.  Minnesota is also home to innovators, such as MNCM and ICSI, and organizations that have demonstrated high success rates.

Second, on behalf of our Consumer Reports readers, I want to thank the healthcare community for its effort to align forces (to borrow a phrase from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) in order to present health care data in ways that are transparent as well as important and meaningful to consumers. If we are to achieve affordable and accountable health care, consumers must be empowered to see beyond the status quo to a state of health care that delivers better outcomes.

At a baseline level, consumers need to be aware that:

  • Death due to unsafe/incorrect practices in the health care system (mostly hospitals) may be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.;
  • Consumers and physicians have no idea what health services/products really cost; and
  • 30% of current health care services are wasteful, duplicative, and low-value.

Armed with this understanding, they will be more inclined to seek out and use available information in order to improve their own care. For example, as a partner in Choosing Wisely®,  Consumer Reports has created patient-friendly materials and engaged a coalition of consumer communication partners to disseminate content and messages about appropriate use to the communities they serve. (Tools and resources can be found at:  As a result of this effort, a December 2012 Consumer Reports survey of 2,669 consumers who received Choosing Wisely information found that:

  • 72% agreed that it had changed their opinion of the topic, taught them new information, or prompted them to ask more questions of their health provider.
  • 81% of consumers reporting interest in a Choosing Wisely topic said they were likely to have a conversation with their physician about what they had read.
  • In the case of one topic (back pain), 85% intended to have a conversation with their doctor.

As we partner with the health care community in this endeavor, we must continually remind ourselves to harmonize our efforts, anticipate and reach out to the organizations and physicians who may struggle to keep up, and continue to talk to each other as well as the patients we serve. Otherwise we will continue to need decades to implement what we all know works.

Consumer Reports remains committed to helping patients understand and effectively use health care data to improve outcomes, and we rely on the continued engagement of clinicians to ensure that the data is robust and credible, and that we are all agreed on its value in influencing health care outcomes.

View this article and others in The Measurement Minute – August 2013 newsletter.