In this Internet age, patients face a dizzying array of sources for health care information. Search for "diabetes" on Google, and you'll come up with more than eight million results. Try "heart disease," and you'll get 11 million. With a few clicks of a mouse, patients can get enormous amounts of knowledge on medical topics from A to Z from thousands of sources.
What isn't so prevalent is information on how patients can play a more active role in their own health care. A new non-profit organization in Massachusetts The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence is working to change that, and its website merits a close look by patients of all kinds.
Created in 2007, The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence (PHE) describes itself as a broad-based coalition that includes participants from every segment of the health care community. Some 43 organizations, representing physicians, hospitals, business and labor and government, health insurers, nurses and non-profit health and advocacy organizations, are members of the Partnership's Leadership Council and contribute to its educational efforts. My organization, the Massachusetts Medical Society, is one of those.
One of the stated goals of The Partnership is to encourage consumers to become more informed and involved in their own care. Its Web site www.partnershipforhealthcare.org" contains useful information that allows patients to improve the quality, effectiveness and safety of their care by becoming a more active and engaged patient.
Information on the site comes from some of the most respected local and national organizations in health care, such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Institute of Medicine, the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors and The Joint Commission, an agency that certifies and accredits health care agencies across the U.S.
The core of the site is a "One Stop Guide to Quality Healthcare." This section contains links to some 35 non-profit and government sources that focus on four key areas: choosing a doctor, preparing for a doctor's appointment, taking medications safely and preparing for a hospital stay. Further, PHE provides "what you can do" fact sheets, listing steps to take when selecting a physician, preparing for a doctor's visit, preparing for surgery and using medications safely. Written in friendly, easy-to-understand language, the fact sheets are available in English and Spanish and can be downloaded from the Web site at no charge.
Two additional sections comparing hospitals and general health quality round out the information. "Comparing hospitals" provides links to other Web sites that discuss how to choose a hospital, compare hospital care and quality and evaluate patient safety ratings. And the "general health quality" area provides reports and research papers on such topics as public opinion surveys on health care and how consumers make health care decisions in Massachusetts.
In the coming months, the Partnership intends to expand its "One-Stop Guide" and offer additional fact sheets. By giving the Partnership an e-mail address, you'll be notified as more resources are added.
The most critical steps in finding good health care information are to ensure that the source of the information is credible, authoritative and trustworthy. PHE is one of those sources.
I will be quick to add that no one should make major health care decisions based on a single source of information. And patients should also consider their primary care physician the one who coordinates your care and likely knows more about your medical history than anyone else as a trusted source of information. All patients, especially those contemplating or facing complicated procedures, should use multiple sources and evaluate the information all together pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages before reaching a decision.
But if you're someone who wants to become more active in your own health care, who wants to take more control of your care, The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence can help you do that and lead you to make better decisions for you and your family's well-being.
B. Dale Magee, M.D., M.S., is president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a practicing gynecologist in Shrewsbury, Mass.
Physician Focus is provided as a public service by the Massachusetts Medical Society. Readers should use their own judgment when seeking medical care and consult with their physician for treatment. Email comments to PhysicianFocus@mms.org