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Inquiry. 1997 Summer;34(2):117-28.

Death and reputation: how consumers acted upon HCFA mortality information.

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  • 1Lister Center for Health Policy, School of Public Health, University of Alabama, Birmingham 35294, USA.


From 1986 through 1992, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) released information comparing patient death rates at individual hospitals. This was viewed widely as an effort to aid consumers in selecting hospitals. This study evaluates how the release of this information affected hospital utilization, as measured by discharges. It finds a very small, but statistically significant effect of the HCFA data release. A hospital with an actual death rate twice that expected by HCFA had fewer than one less discharge per week in the first year. However, press reports of single, unexpected deaths were associated with an average 9% reduction in hospital discharges within one year. HCFA was justified in eliminating its mortality report, not because it was being used by consumers to choose hospitals, but because it was not. Implications for report cards are discussed.

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