Delivering Health Care Quality Information Through Mass Media

Mass media—chiefly television, radio, Internet sites, newspapers, and magazines—are among the vehicles that can be used effectively to promote awareness and use of comparative quality reports. Learn about Using the Media To Spread Your Message.

However, a few sponsors have experimented with using mass media, particularly magazines and newspapers, to deliver information on quality. One early effort in the 1990s was a community-based publication called Health Pages that combined general information on health care with comparative data on local health care organizations. Another was a newspaper insert with comparative health plan data produced in 1995 by the now-defunct Minnesota Health Data Institute.

More recent examples include health plan and hospital performance reports in general interest magazines, such as U.S. News & World Report and Consumer Reports. As part of the promotion of its HospitalCompare Web site, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published full-page newspaper advertisements with the results for each hospital in that State.

While the written media appear to have a great deal of potential for conveying data effectively, the potential for visual or audio media for this purpose is unclear—although they seem well-suited for educational and promotional efforts. Some sponsors are concerned that, to be able to use the information to make a decision, the consumer has to have access to a piece of paper (or at least a computer screen) with the data on it.

Benefits of Mass Media

  • Wide reach. By definition, mass media reach large numbers of people, often across various demographic groupings.
  • Potential for better communication. Mass media’s expertise in communicating with consumers may help to overcome the problem of people not understanding quality data.
  • Control. If you pay for an insert or ad space rather than trying to get press coverage, you can avoid relying on a reporter to interpret and convey the material correctly. This may be a good approach if you want to be sure that your message is delivered unedited.

Disadvantages of Mass Media

  • Breadth. Mass media are generally not targeted, although the ability of organizations to reach specific audiences has increased significantly. Many newspapers, for example, can limit the delivery of inserts to specific geographical zones. Moreover, some mass media, such as foreign language newspapers and televisions stations, focus on the needs and interests of specific populations.
  • Cost. Mass media can be costly to use if you are buying space.
  • Questionable “fit.” It is unclear how well comparative quality information fits with the mentality of most of the press, which has to compress information and look for "angles." They may lose the nuances in the data, and you may lose control over the story. In particular, if the press focuses on identifying "winners" and "losers," this distribution strategy can create serious problems for sponsors and their partners, especially the health plans and providers. It is very important to prepare your partners for the attention they may get from the press. Make sure they are aware of the data and its implications and are ready to discuss (and possibly defend) their performance.

Also in "Media for a Quality Report"

Page last reviewed February 2016
Page originally created February 2015
Internet Citation: Delivering Health Care Quality Information Through Mass Media. Content last reviewed February 2016. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
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