Comparing Online Information about Healthcare

By Carol Levine

Part of Navigating Your Later Years For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Websites offer comparative rankings and user reviews of everything from restaurants to electronic products to colleges. Similarly, dozens of sites offer comparisons of hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors. But how much weight should you place on any of these sites? And how do you compare the comparisons? What are their strengths and what do they lack?

The website of the Informed Patient Institute (IPI) can help. IPI is an independent, nonprofit organization created to provide unbiased information about healthcare quality online report cards from both governmental and private sources. It doesn’t rate individual healthcare providers. The ratings are based on 15 criteria in six areas: the site’s content, timeliness, presentation, ease of use, information to help make decisions, and special features.

IPI rates websites for nursing homes, hospitals, and doctors. The ratings range from “Recommended,” including A (Outstanding), B (Very Good), and U (Recommended for Unique Content). Sites that are designated “Use with Caution” are ranked as C (Fair) or D (Poor). Finally, the really bad grade of F is “Not Recommended” or “Not Worth Your Time.”

Start by entering your state and the type of provider you’re investigating. For example, you live in Colorado and are looking at nursing homes. Six websites are rated, with rankings from B to D. Each rating has sections called “What we like” and “What we don’t like” and a link to each website so you can make your own judgment.

The website also has a series of tip sheets for handling quality problems in selected states. The first states on this list are California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. And there are links to news reports about report cards, quality measures, and other topics, as well as a list of other resources.