Consumers Union joins growing field of hospital-ranking websites
More hospitals exposed through ranking websites. Source: CBS News  
The nonprofit Consumers Union is launching a new hospital-ratings service, adding to the growing number of online consumer healthcare information services.

The effort by the publisher of Consumer Reports is a gamble to the credibility of the magazine's name and its no-advertising stance can translate into the “tricky field” of healthcare, where doctors and other providers have objected to some evaluations proposed by insurers, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The field is increasingly crowded, with an array of organizations trying to build definitive consumer health information sources.

The WSJ reported that Consumers Union already offers assessments of health insurance plans, drugs and some medical treatments. The nonprofit is also considering other areas, including physician groups and elder care. The new hospital ratings are the first step in a broader effort to expand the nonprofit’s healthcare offerings.

The Consumer Reports online hospital service will include approximately 3,000 facilities. Consumers will be able to see a graph showing how intensely each hospital tends to treat patients, on a scale from zero for the most conservative to 100 for the most aggressive, the WSJ reported. The intensity of care is based on time spent in the hospital and the number of doctor visits. The index reflects the hospital's handling of nine serious conditions, including cancer and heart failure, when it treats patients in the last two years of life.

The new Consumer Reports online offering will also include a dollar figure that reflects an average out-of-pocket cost for doctor visits during the last two years of life for the nine conditions, though that doesn’t match up to the charge for any particular service, the WSJ reported.

"Consumers need to know there are major differences in care," said John Santa, the director of the new Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, who said the nonprofit organization is looking at outcomes measures that could be added to the site.