Who doesn’t know and love Consumer Reports? I personally have used this product to help me make a wide range of purchases, from child-care products to a new automobile. Consumer Reports has enjoyed a relatively unblemished reputation since its inception as an unbiased repository of invaluable information for consumers. This nonprofit advocacy organization advises consumers looking to purchase anything from small, menial items (e.g. blenders and toasters) to large, expensive ones (e.g. computers, lawn mowers, cars). It has been categorizing and publishing large-scale consumer feedback and in-house testing since 1936. According to Wikipedia, Consumer Reports has more than 7 million subscribers and runs a budget in excess of $21 million annually.
One of the reasons for its longstanding success is that it does not appear to have any hidden agenda. It does not have any partiality to a specific company or service, and therefore has maintained its impartial stance during testing and evaluation of any good or service. Its Consumer Reports magazine houses no advertisements in order to maintain its objectivity. Its only agenda is to reflect the interests and opinions of the consumers themselves, and its mission is to provide a “fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.”1 A perfect agent from which to seek advice.
And as a company, it has grown with the times, as it now hosts a variety of platforms from which consumers can seek advice. It has long hosted a website (ConsumerReports.org). Now it has Consumer Reports Television and The Consumerist blog, the latter of which accepts “tips” from anyone on what stories to cover, helpful tips for consumers, or interesting pictures. For a few years, there was also Consumer Reports WebWatch, which was aimed at improving the credibility of websites through rigorous investigative reporting.
So it seems that Consumer Reports could be a good avenue to seek advice on where to “consume” health care. And, in fact, it is now in the business of rating the health-care industry. Recent blog posts from Consumer Reports have entailed topics as wide-ranging as the number of uninsured in the U.S. to the number and types of recalls of food products.
The health part of the website covers beauty and personal care (sunscreens and anti-wrinkle serums), exercise and fitness (bikes and diet plans), foods (coffee to frozen meals), home medical supplies (heart rate and blood pressure monitors), vitamins, supplements, and, last but not least, health services. This last section rates health insurance, heart surgeons, heart screening tests, and hospitals.
It even goes so far as to “rate” medications; its Best Buy Drugs compares the cost and effectiveness of a variety of prescription drugs ranging from anti-hypertensives to diabetic agents.
In Focus: Hospitals
Consumer Reports’ latest foray into the health-care industry now includes reporting on the quality of hospitals. The current ratings evaluated more than 2,000 acute-care hospitals in the U.S. and came up with several rankings.
The first rating includes “patient outcomes,” which is a conglomerate of hospital-acquired central-line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) rates, select surgical-site-infection [SSI] rates, 30-day readmission rates (for acute MI [AMI], congestive heart failure [CHF], and pneumonia), and eight “Patient Safety Indicators” (derived from definitions from the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality [AHRQ], and includes pressure ulcers, pneumothorax, CLABSI, accidental puncture injury during surgery, and four postoperative complications, including VTE, sepsis, hip fracture, and wound dehiscence).