Over the past few years, the public sector spent considerable time and money making myriad transactions available to the public via the Internet.

People appreciate the convenience, and they appreciate "their" government responding to their wants. The public sector is slowly changing people's perception by creating an image of government agencies that care about their customers and want to nurture the relationship.

Some governments now use the Web to provide information to help citizens become smarter consumers. Public agencies have long collected price and performance data from a wide range of industries, but rarely made it available in a user-friendly form for average citizens. Agencies at all governmental levels are beginning to offer online services that help customers make better decisions on everything from gasoline purchases and investing to choosing hospitals and schools.

That's new ground. In the past, information tended to flow one way: from citizens and businesses to government. Society gained because the data was used to ensure compliance with environmental, safety and fairness laws, as well as other regulations. But many citizens felt little direct benefit from this activity.

Nowadays, some governments are doing more to help people as they go about their lives, doing the seemingly million and one things they must accomplish on any given day.

Comparing Hospitals

Florida's Legislature passed the Affordable Health Care for Floridians Act in 2004. The bill directed state government to implement a consumer-focused, transparent health-care delivery system in the state. The bill also stipulated that the state create a mechanism to publicly report health-care performance measures and distribute consumer health-care information.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) is revamping its Web presence to report and distribute health-care data to consumers. One expanded site, floridahealthstat.com, delivers health-care data collected by the AHCA's State Center for Health Statistics to consumers.

The site is designed to make it easy for health-care consumers, purchasers and professionals to access information on quality, pricing and performance. One such tool is Florida Compare Care, which was launched in November 2005.

Through the Compare CareWeb site, Florida now reveals data on infections, deaths, complications and prices for each of its 207 hospitals. Residents can use the site to compare short-term-care hospitals and outpatient medical centers in various categories, such as length of stay, mortality, complications and infections.

The Web site lists hospitals' rates of medical problems in seven categories, and provides patient death rates in 10 areas, including heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia.

When the AHCA started devising Florida Compare Care, the agency turned to the Comprehensive Health Information System (CHIS) Advisory Council for help. The council and various CHIS technical workgroups, which include hospital representatives and various other stakeholders, were involved in the Web site's development from the very beginning, said Toby Philpot, the AHCA's deputy press secretary.

"The workgroups have studied the technical issues of reporting performance data, as well as discussed the most appropriate options for reporting and displaying the information on the Web site," Philpot said.

Creating a Web site such as Florida Compare Care is dicey because of the complex nature of the information being presented, he said.

"Because of their expertise, some hospitals treat more high-risk patients," Philpot explained. "Some patients arrive at hospitals sicker than others, and often, sicker patients are transferred to specialty hospitals. That makes comparing hospitals for patients with the same condition but different health status difficult."

To get the most accurate data on the Web site, he said, each hospital's data is risk adjusted to reflect the score the hospital would have if it provided services to the average mix of sick, complicated patients.

The risk adjustment is performed by 3

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor