by Ceci Connolly

There’s a long-held belief that if you give individuals accurate and timely information about the cost and quality of medical services, they’ll choose accordingly. That belief is the focus of a piece by LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.

The column is pegged to a new study that explores whether well-informed patients are more likely to seek better quality health care. In the study, researchers used doctors as a stand-in for highly-educated patients. The study then examined treatments received by both doctors as well as by non-physician patients – and concluded that doctors did not receive much better care.

The study, however, assumes that doctors would automatically be knowledgeable about the best types of care—a major flaw that is widely believed but easily refuted. Research has found that it can take decades for doctors to start applying the latest in evidence-based care, which isn’t surprising given that the universe of medical knowledge doubles every three months. Just like everyone else, doctors need help staying up to date on the latest medical advancements.

However, research conducted by ACHP has shown that when doctors and patients have access to the latest medical knowledge, the quality of care does improve – and so do health outcomes.

And case studies indicate strong relationships between health plans and clinical teams — rooted in the local community — can help accelerate patients’ access to this evidence-based care.

Through physician education and training:

  • Independent Health in Buffalo, New York, reduced variations in care quality for cardiology patients, while also cutting annual cost increases by 15 percent;
  • Geisinger Health, in Danville, Penn.,  shortened the length of treatment and reach a 97 percent cure rate for patients with Hepatitis C;
  • And Kaiser Permanente cut the number of opioid prescriptions in half, while also encouraging new, safer approaches to pain management nationwide.

Education and access to medical knowledge won’t fix the U.S. health care system: but it is part of the solution for what ails it.

By giving doctors and patients the information they need to make smarter, better choices when making health decisions, America can and will start to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Ceci Connolly is President & CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, a national leadership organization bringing together innovative health plans and provider groups that are among America’s best at delivering affordable, high-quality coverage and care.