Delivering Health Care Quality Reports on the Web
Web-based reports, which are the most common format for information on health care quality, generally take two different forms:
- Interactive website. An ideal approach is to design a report as a site that takes advantage of the interactive capabilities of the Web.
Example: Minnesota Community Measurement's Minnesota HealthScores, which offers comparative information on clinics, medical groups, hospitals, and the costs of services and procedures.
- PDF Format. Another common approach is to provide printed materials online in a PDF format, often in the context of other information on a site with a broader scope. These reports rarely offer the kind of interactivity available in a Web-based report. However, they do retain some of the advantages of Web publications, such as the ability to link to other information within the document and elsewhere on the Web. Note that when printed displays are simply reproduced in a Web page, it is helpful to offer users access to a PDF or some other printer-friendly version of the material.
Example: The Rhode Island Department of Health's Nursing Home Summary Report (PDF, 1.17 MB).
A website is typically an alternative to a printed report, but it is sometimes an adjunct. Some sponsors have to supplement their Web-based reports with written materials to meet the needs of consumers without access to the Internet.
This page reviews some of the advantages and disadvantages of using the Web. It also discusses decisions regarding "housing" a Web report and combining it with other information.
Advantages of Web-based Reports
- Ability to layer information. Compared to paper, the web makes it easier to present a large amount of data without overwhelming the user. You can layer the information so that people can get as much (or as little) data as they want. Learn about Layering Data Displays.
- Ability to provide detail to those who want it. On the Web, you can use hyperlinks to provide access to definitions and explanations without interfering with the look or flow of the material. In addition, in contrast to hard-copy reports, where a large number of pages can intimidate readers, a Web site doesn't make the user aware of how much material is being provided. A well-designed site can include all of the educational information, methodological explanations, and detailed data that someone might want. To learn about creating Web reports, go to Tips on Designing a Quality Report.
- Ability to link to related information. A Web report can offer links to relevant sites with information on quality, costs, or the prevention or treatment of specific diseases, as well as the Web sites of report sponsors, health plans, and health care providers.
- Ability to simplify information. In a Web-based report, users can better manage quality information by picking a limited number of providers or plans or a limited number of measures to compare.
- Broad reach at a lower cost. The Web allows report sponsors to get information to a large number of people without incurring the costs of printing and distribution. While producing a Web site is not an insignificant expense, updating a Web report costs less than designing, printing, and distributing an entirely new "hard copy" report. In the long run, Web-based reports are generally less costly to produce.
- Potential to customize information. One promising application of the Web would be processing and tailoring information for specific users. For example, by asking questions about the user's needs, a computer application could eliminate inappropriate options, helping people narrow their choices. A Web-based report could also overcome many of the complexities of using comparative quality information by allowing the user to give more weight to some things than others. This capability could help health care decisionmakers as well as anyone guiding them figure out what really matters to them and make sure that those values are reflected in their selection.
Disadvantages of Web Reports
- Limited access. While most Americans have access to the internet, there are still some differences in Web access across age, income, education, location, and race.1
- Limited Internet literacy. Access to the Web does not necessarily translate into an ability to understand, use, and navigate websites. Not everyone with a computer can handle sophisticated applications and features (such as streaming video).
- Design challenges. The design of a web-based comparative report can be a major challenge, especially if you are trying to present a great deal of information. If you fail to provide good navigational aids, users may get frustrated or even lost in your site. Working with experienced, skilled web designers and programmers is essential. Learn more about developing and managing an effective Web team in Advice on Choosing and Working With Design Professionals.
- Constraints of a computer screen. A web report can be more limiting than paper from a display perspective, in the sense that a chart or table can only be as big as the monitor's screen. This makes it harder to present large or multiple tables or graphs in the same view.
Key Decisions for Web Reports
New or Existing Site?
One decision you will have to make is whether to create a new Web site for your report or place it within an existing site. A separate Web site will allow the report to have a unique identity and a stronger presence on the web. However, if you already have a Web site that is known and trusted by your audience, it may be prudent to take advantage of the "brand" you have established.
If your report has multiple stakeholders, other options include:
- Housing the report on one of the major stakeholder's websites. One consideration would be whether one of the partner’s sites is already known, trusted, and used by the audience. Another would be whether choosing one organization for this purpose could cause problems within the partnership.
- Creating a website for the collaborative effort. The downside of creating a stand-alone site for a quality report is that the site won’t be familiar to anyone, which means you have to take steps to promote the site and make sure people can find it. Learn about Promoting a Quality Report.
Merge With Other Web-based Materials?
While much of the comparative quality information available today stands on its own, there is also a great deal of information that is either inaccessible to the general public or hard for people to find because it is combined with other information for employees or enrollees. For employers that handle enrollment online or health plans that offer online information about hospitals, physicians, and other providers, the Web makes it easier to integrate information on comparative quality with other useful information. However, unless all likely users have access to the website, this is not a reliable way to disseminate information.
EXAMPLE: Quality Data in Web-Based Enrollment Materials
Title: Federal Employees Health Benefits: Compare 2019 Plans
Sponsor: Office of Personnel Management
The Federal Employees Health Benefits program offers enrollees access to Web-based information they can use to compare health plans on quality, costs, and benefits.
- Anderson M, Perrin A, et al. 10% of Americans don’t use the internet. Who are they? Pew Research Center FactTank. April 22, 2019.
Also in "Media Options for a Quality Report"