Who Is the Audience for Your Health Care Quality Report?

Before doing anything else, you need to consider your audience:

  • For whom are you creating this report?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What will they do with the information?

First Priority: The Primary Audience

The group you are trying to reach and inform with your quality report is known as the primary, or target, audience. Older adults, for instance, are the primary audience for information on the quality of Medicare plans. Once you have defined that primary audience, you can focus your reporting project on meeting their information needs.

Some sponsors start out with a well-defined target audience (e.g., patients with diabetes) and then determine what information would be useful to them. But many sponsors start with the data they have or can obtain (e.g., measures of patients’ experiences with hospitals) and then determine which audience would be best served by the information. Either way, it is critical to make the connection between the information you have and the people who can use it.

The Most Significant Audiences

While some primary audiences are fairly narrow (e.g., the employees of a specific set of employers or patients with a specific health condition), your primary audience may be very broad (e.g., all consumers in the State). One key downside of a broad audience is that it is hard to design a report that works for everyone.

In that case, you may need to decide which segments of your audience are most significant for achieving the objectives of your report. The most significant audience could be the segment that represents:

  • The most motivated readers,
  • The readers most in need of the information,
  • The readers that wield the most influence.

Significance determines which segment you think about the most when you write and design your information, as well as when you distribute, promote, and support use of the information.

The “True” Audience: Those With a Need for Information

While you may think of your audience as all State residents, all Medicaid beneficiaries, or all health plan enrollees, it is critical to recognize that only a subset of those people have a need for the information you are providing. In any given year, only a minority of people select a new health plan or health care provider. A national survey conducted in 2007 found that:[1]

  • Only 11 percent of American adults sought a new primary care physician.
  • 28 percent sought a new specialist physician.
  • 16 percent underwent a medical procedure at a new facility.

Moreover, only part of this limited population will be willing and able to use quality information to make this kind of decision. Consider this natural constraint on the need for and interest in your information when developing your outreach strategy and evaluating the impact of your efforts.

Next Consideration: Secondary Audience(s)

A secondary audience may influence the decisions of the primary or target audience by providing assistance or advice. For example:

  • If your primary audience is people with Medicare, secondary audiences include their adult children, who may be helping their parents make health care decisions, or the insurance counseling services that help beneficiaries identify and understand their options.
  • If you are a business coalition producing a report on behalf of member employers, the health benefits managers at those companies are an important secondary audience for information aimed at the employees.
  • Physicians are often a secondary audience for quality reports on hospitals or nursing homes.

Secondary audiences also can include groups that may benefit from the information even though it was not developed with their interests and needs in mind. For example:

  • The subjects of your report—health care providers or plans—will be very interested in what you are telling people about them and may explore how they could use the information themselves.
  • Policymakers may review information looking for broader policy implications.
  • Advocates for low-income groups may be concerned about the information in reports directed to people with Medicaid benefits.
  • Advocates for people with a particular health condition may be very interested in the results of a report on services for that condition.
  • Local media—including “old media” as well as Internet reporters and bloggers—may want to build stories around the data.

Next Step: Learning About Your Audiences

Once you have identified your audience(s), it is helpful to gather some information about them. This information can help you determine your audience’s information needs, how you can communicate with them most effectively, and where and how you can reach them.

[1] Tu HT, Lauer J. Word of Mouth and Physician Referrals Still Drive Health Care Provider Choice. Center for Studying Health System Change, Research Brief No. 9. December 2008. Available at http://www.hschange.org/.
Page last reviewed November 2018
Page originally created February 2015
Internet Citation: Who Is the Audience for Your Health Care Quality Report?. Content last reviewed November 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/talkingquality/plan/your-audience/index.html
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