Use Report Cards to Tell Your Hospital's Quality Improvement Story

Veronica Hunt, for HealthLeaders Media , January 7, 2009

The hospital industry is in the middle of a storm—a "quest for quality" storm. As government and other industry groups continue to make changes and issue mandates aimed at improving care practices and quality in America, hospitals need to closely look at report cards as a tool to document their course through the storm, toward improvement and best possible care.

Today, hospitals mostly leverage report card services conducted by organizations such as Hospital Compare, Consumer Checkbook, and Health Grades Inc. Still other organizations develop their own report cards based on data assembled by outside organizations such as those mentioned above plus the National Voluntary Hospital Reporting Initiative, Select Quality Care, the Leapfrog Group and the Health Care Acquisition Performance System (HCAPS). Whatever route your organization uses to collect and display its quality improvement information is fine, but is your organization smartly reporting the data?

While the report card concept can be painful and the process to develop one can be even more agonizing, they are a great opportunity for telling and documenting your hospital's quest for quality and, eventually, your hospital's arrival.

Report cards should tell a story
Consumers—past patients, future patients, family members, friends—physicians and others eagerly look through report cards to see how a particular hospital is performing in a certain category or measure and to see what they are doing to improve. Report cards should not just list numbers/data such as average wait time in the emergency room and number and type of hospital-acquired infections in a certain period. Rather report cards should tell a story – a story about what your hospital is doing to achieve quality.

Report cards should contain detailed information and explanations about various clinical performance initiatives that are underway throughout the organization. For example, talk about national or regional programs your hospital is participating in to improve performance in a certain clinical condition, such as VHA Inc.'s (the national health care alliance) New England region Rapid Adoption Network for pressure ulcers, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's 100 Lives from Harm Campaign or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)/Premier healthcare alliance Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration. Your patients or potential patients already are reading about these programs in the media; why not tell them about how your hospital is participating in these programs?

Don't limit your quality story to what you're doing with organized groups, but also include what your hospital is doing on its own. What kinds of systems, protocols and procedures has your facility implemented to ensure service excellence? What is your hospital doing to improve wait times? Tell us. If your surgical teams take 10 minutes before making an incision to review out loud what area of the body is being operated, whether antibiotics have been administered one hour prior to incision, and whether the area has been decontaminated, then say so in your report card. Anything that your facility is doing or any program your facility is participating in or developing to improve the quality of care for its patients has a place in your hospital's report card.

Review community newsletters, your local newspaper and blogs to see what is being said about your hospital. Address these issues in your report card to support or correct any erroneous information that might be circulating in your market.

Don't limit your quality story
Finally, don't limit your quality story to report or score cards. Leverage your hospital's newsletter, community education programs and materials, and physician and service line communications as vehicles to tell your story. Make your report card visually stimulating. Use imagery and photography to help convey your story and passion for delivering quality care. Include photos of actual hospital staff so that consumers can identify these persons as they walk through your facility. It will help to build a personal connection and brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, stories about hospital and medical errors, poor conditions and/or treatment etc. appear daily. Hospital quality is a serious issue to consumers and a scary topic to consider as a patient or friend of a patient-to-be. Hospitals need to communicate about their quality efforts and achievements.

Used correctly, hospital report cards prove and demonstrate that your hospital is set on a course towards clinical quality improvement. Whether your hospital uses an outside source or chooses to develop its own report card, make sure the information contained is simple, not complicated to interpret, and clearly tells your hospital's quality story—what's been done, what's underway, what's next. Don't miss the opportunity to use your hospital's report card smartly and use it to demonstrate your organization's quality improvement journey.

Veronica Hunt is account supervisor at the public relations firm CRT/tanaka, headquartered in Richmond, VA. You may contact her at
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