Timing the Distribution of a Healthcare Quality Report

Information is more likely to be useful if consumers have it during the period in which they are making a decision. While this sounds simple and obvious, it is not that easy to do:

  • You may not know when people need the information.
  • It may be difficult to have the information available when (and where) people need it.

To help you address these obstacles, this section offers guidance on what to do when you can and cannot predict the need for information.

When the Need for Information Is Predictable

People make health care-related decisions all the time. But for many insured individuals, the one decision that happens at regular intervals is the choice of a health plan. For instance:

  • Consumers who get coverage through their employers go through a period each year known as "open enrollment," during which they can compare their options (if any) and choose to enroll in an insurance plan for the coming year.
  • States often designate a specific time each year when existing Medicaid beneficiaries can change health plans.
  • Everyone eligible for Medicare can enroll on their 65th birthday, so at least their initial need for information can be anticipated. Medicare beneficiaries also participate in an open enrollment process each fall.
  • When new enrollees join a health plan, many will need to select a primary care doctor at that time. One study found that targeting patients who were known to be seeking a new primary care provider (PCP) positively affected use of the information, which included PCP credentials, personal characteristics, office location and hours, and patient experience scores. After viewing the data, consumers made choices well aligned with their priorities.1

In situations where the need is predictable, sponsors can time their reports so that they get to the consumer as close to the decision point as possible. The problem with being too early is that people are likely to put the information aside and then forget they have it.

Many sponsors of health plan quality information address this issue by providing it at the same time they deliver information on health plan costs and benefits. This helps the audience see how information about quality fits with the other factors they care about and how it can be useful to them. Similarly, some health plans that provide members with information about available physicians include information on the quality of those physicians in their materials for new enrollees.


When the Need Is Not Predictable

Consumers may interact with various components of the healthcare system—including primary care providers, specialists, hospitals, and nursing homes—at any time. If you are providing performance information about these kinds of providers, how can you make sure that people can find the information when they need it?

Moreover, not everyone chooses a health plan at the same time. While both employers and public programs typically allow beneficiaries to change plans at a prescribed time each year, there is always a subset of the population that will be choosing a new plan at other times.

Under conditions of uncertainty, the best strategy for sponsors is to take steps to make information on quality available whenever and wherever consumers are likely to use it. Consider the following two tactics:

  • Flood the market with promotional, educational information.
  • Target specific, trusted information sources.

Flood the Market

One option is to place promotional materials or even the quality information itself everywhere your audience may see it, such as physicians' offices, clinic waiting rooms, libraries, corporate human resources offices, community centers, and senior centers. The goal of this approach is to keep the idea of comparative quality information in front of consumers so that when they do have a need, they know what it is, why they would want it, where to find it and maybe even how to use it.

The problem with being so thorough is that flooding the market with information can be expensive and hard to maintain. One way to get around this problem is to make the information available through links on existing Web sites that present related information that consumers are likely to see. Learn more about using other websites as channels to your report.

Target Specific, Trusted Information Sources

An alternative to comprehensive coverage is to be selective about where you focus your efforts. While you cannot predict when consumers will need information, you can anticipate who is most likely to need it and learn where they are most likely to look for guidance. The Maryland Health Care Commission, for example, publishes a comparative guide to nursing homes in the State. It convened focus groups to better understand what information people need to support decisions about long-term care services and where they are likely to seek that information.

Once you have identified potential information sources, focus your efforts by equipping those sources with whatever they need to deliver your reports to your audience as well as any documentation or other kinds of support (such as training) that will enable them to answer questions they're likely to hear. Learn more about using distribution brokers.

Whether or not you can predict your audience's needs, it is critical to take a long-term perspective by distributing timely information at regular intervals.2 Social marketing research indicates that repetition can facilitate learning and lead to the development of a favorable response. Also, as people become accustomed to seeing the information, they often perceive it as being more important and learn to seek it out when they need it.

References

  1. Fanjiang G, von Glahn T, Chang H, et al. Providing patients web-based data to inform physician choice: If you build it, will they come? J Gen Intern Med 2007; (22): 1463-6.
  2. To learn about the value of repeated exposure to report cards, refer to: Knutson D, Kind EA, Fowles JB, Adlis S. The impact of report cards on employees: a natural experiment. Health Care Financ Rev 1998 Fall;20(1):5-27.

Also in "Distribute Your Report"

 

 

 

Information is more likely to be useful if consumers have it during the period in which they are making a decision. While this sounds simple and obvious, it is not that easy to do:

  • You may not know when people need the information.
  • It may be difficult to have the information available when (and where) people need it.

To help you address these obstacles, this section offers guidance on what to do:

Whether or not you can predict your audience's needs, it is critical to take a long-term perspective by distributing timely information at regular intervals.[1] Social marketing research indicates that repetition can facilitate learning and lead to the development of a favorable response. Also, as people become accustomed to seeing the information, they often perceive it as being more important. Over time, they should know to seek it out when they need it.

[1] To learn about the value of repeated exposure to report cards, refer to: Knutson D, Kind EA, Fowles JB, Adlis S. The impact of report cards on employees: a natural experiment. Health Care Financ Rev 1998 Fall;20(1):5-27.


Also in "Distribute Your Report"

Page last reviewed March 2016
Page originally created February 2016
Internet Citation: Timing the Distribution of a Healthcare Quality Report. Content last reviewed March 2016. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/talkingquality/distribute/timing/index.html
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