Consumers in Maine have known for some time that there’s a lot of information about health care. However, it has often been difficult to use available data to make meaningful decisions about the quality and price of various medical procedures.
The quest for meaningful comparisons became easier last week. The Maine Health Data Organization, or MHDO, launched a new website, CompareMaine.org. The keyword MHDO acting Executive Director Karynlee Harrington uses to describe the site is “transparency.”
The organization put together a consumer advisory group about 18 months ago. The agency asked consumers what they would like to see in a user-friendly website.
“One of the things they said over and over is there is information out there, but nobody’s asked consumers what they want,” Harrington said last week.
What the consumers wanted was a single site comparing common medical procedures, in terms of cost and patient ratings. The MDHO working group looked at various websites — private and governmental — to see what information was available and how well organized it was. The result is the website, which was launched last week.
The site allows users to compare average costs of more than 200 medical procedures at more than 170 health care facilities around Maine. In many cases, users also can compare quality ratings for facilities. Florida is the only other state in the country where Harrington says people can find side-by-side cost figures and quality ratings. Maine users can compare costs by facility and by health insurance companies.
Users of the website should remember that figures they find are averages — a number of factors can affect actual costs of a given procedure.
“It’s not like going out and buying an appliance,” Harrington said.
The MHDO urges consumers to consult their health care providers and insurers to get a personalized estimate.
The website was developed through grants from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Over time, more procedures will be added and the number of health care facilities will be increased. The website also will be accessible on additional devices.
Harrington describes the current website as a starting point. “It allows consumers to begin the conversation (with providers and insurers),” she said.
The MHDO is looking for feedback from people who visit the site. You can take a survey online when you visit the site, letting the agency know if it’s helpful.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer,ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.