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Frequently Asked Questions
about Health Care Report Cards

What are health care "report cards"?

Similar to school report cards, health care report cards measure how well those who provide or pay for health care (for example, hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and health insurance or HMO plans) perform across different categories of information.

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What types of information are in a report card?

You can find the following types of information in health care report cards:

  • Quality of care (such as how well an organization or professional provides care to diabetics, or to patients undergoing surgery)
  • Patient satisfaction or patient experience of the care received
  • Patient safety (how well hospitals avoid infections or patient harm)
  • Staffing (how many staff care for nursing home residents)
  • Information about complaints, penalties, or malpractice claims
  • Costs of care

Report cards are still new. Few of them will include all of this information.

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When should I use a report card?

Look for a health care report card when you have to make an important decision about your, or a family member's, health. For example, if you are considering surgery or a nursing home, looking for a new general doctor or specialist, having a baby, or if you're not happy with your existing health team. Every year you decide about your health insurance and enroll in a plan for the coming year. This might be a good time to check for report cards for the health plan, doctors, and hospitals you use.

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Who gives out health care report cards?

Report cards are sponsored by the federal government, state governments, non-profit organizations (such as Consumer Reports), the media (such as US News and World Report) and for-profit companies (such as HealthGrades). Your insurance plan or HMO may also provide report cards about the doctors and hospitals it works with. Some employers also provide report cards about the health plans available to employees and retirees.

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How are health care organizations and professionals "graded" in a health care report card?

Report cards use various measures and methods to judge health organizations and professionals. Performance measures look at things like:

  • How often the right (or wrong) thing is done to a patient with a particular condition
  • What happened as a result of the care given
  • The patient's view of the care given

Performance measures are often reviewed and approved by national quality organizations based on research, consensus (expert agreement), or testing. Organizations publishing report cards decide what measures they will use, how they will use them, and how they will give results to the public.

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How do I know I can trust a report card?

Organizations that sponsor report cards should clearly tell you what their mission is, where their funding comes from, and who their staff are (usually found in the "about us" section of their website). They should also provide information about how they put together their report card (in the "methodology" section). Generally government sites have to meet a high standard as they have to balance the views of different parties. Many non-profit and some for-profit sites also provide unique information in a consumer-friendly fashion.

Some report cards include comments and ratings from individual patients about doctors or health organizations. These can often be interesting and informative. Bear in mind however, that these comments are just one person's opinion. Report cards that collect information from, or about, many patients usually give a fuller picture of the doctor or health organization.

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How can I find report cards?

The Informed Patient Institute website ( includes evaluations and links to doctor, hospital, and nursing home report cards nationwide.

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What about report cards that are put out by hospitals or doctors themselves?

Increasingly hospitals, doctors, and other health organizations are reporting on their own performance on their websites. This is often useful information. However, these report cards may not include complete information. It is often best to also look at sites that include comparative information about all of the doctors or hospitals in an area. On these sites, you may be able to see how well your health provider did on a broader range of measures. You can also compare them to other providers and to a "benchmark" such as the "average," "best practice," or "top performing" provider.

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Why is there different information about the same hospital on different report card sites?

Report card sponsors evaluate organizations and professionals in different ways. This includes the measures and timeframes used, how information is scored, and how results are shown to the public. You may even see different results for the same hospital in one report card. Because they are large, complicated organizations, the quality or patient satisfaction scores in one hospital department (such as cancer care) may be very different from another department (such as maternity care).

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Don't health organizations and professionals have to meet quality standards? Why are report cards necessary?

Health care organizations and professionals are overseen by a variety of professional and governmental bodies to see that they provide high quality care. However, research shows there are big gaps in the quality of care provided and substantial differences amongst health providers. Health care report cards measure and report these differences.

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Page last updated: November 2013