Context Information about the performance of hospitals, health professionals,
and health care organizations has been made public in the United States for
more than a decade. The expected gains of public disclosure have not been
made clear, and both the benefits and potential risks have received minimal
Objective To summarize the empirical evidence concerning public disclosure of
performance data, relate the results to the potential gains, and identify
areas requiring further research.
Data Sources A literature search was conducted on MEDLINE and EMBASE databases for
articles published between January 1986 and October 1999 in peer-reviewed
journals. Review of citations, public documents, and expert advice was conducted
to identify studies not found in the electronic databases.
Study Selection Descriptive, observational, or experimental evaluations of US reporting
systems were selected for inclusion.
Data Extraction Included studies were organized based on use of public data by consumers,
purchasers, physicians, and hospitals; impact on quality of care outcomes;
Data Synthesis Seven US reporting systems have been the subject of published empirical
evaluations. Descriptive and observational methods predominate. Consumers
and purchasers rarely search out the information and do not understand or
trust it; it has a small, although increasing, impact on their decision making.
Physicians are skeptical about such data and only a small proportion makes
use of it. Hospitals appear to be most responsive to the data. In a limited
number of studies, the publication of performance data has been associated
with an improvement in health outcomes.
Conclusions There are several potential gains from the public disclosure of performance
data, but use of the information by provider organizations for quality improvement
may be the most productive area for further research.