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Hiding in plain sight: California hospital data

09/13/11     ,


Does your local hospital place more cardiac stents than others? Do more of its patients leave the emergency room without being seen? Does it have a high level of C-section births? These questions and others are relatively easy to answer thanks to a data gold mine kept by the obscure California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

It doesn't matter if your hospital is public, nonprofit or for-profit, data on its patients and services are available online.

Charles Ornstein, senior reporter at ProPublica and president of AHCJ's board of directors, will guide you through using the data to answer those questions and more.

This webinar, co-sponsored by the Association of Health Care Journalists and the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, will give you a step-by-step guide to using this information and leave you with story ideas to take home with you. It helps to have a working knowledge of Excel but all participants are welcome.

While this webinar will focus on the use of data available in California, many other states have similar data repositories. This will give all participants, regardless of state, a solid understanding of how to analyze data and what kinds of questions data can help you answer.

Links for the webinar

Tip sheet: Ornstein prepared this tip sheet for downloading and working with the data.

We suggest that you download the data that Ornstein will be demonstrating. To do so, download the "2009 pivot table" from this site. You also should have this reporting form (PDF). Also download the full dataset for 2009.

For those new to using Excel, this tip sheet may prove useful: Intro to investigating health data using spreadsheets.

Sources of hospital data in other states

Some examples of stories that can be done using this data:

Hospital chain profits by admitting high number of ER patients: A hospital chain has transferred an unusually high number of patients from its emergency rooms to its hospital beds, gaining hundreds of millions of dollars by targeting people with Medicare.

As Hospital System Expands, Patient Advocates Worry: Analysts and patient advocates worry about the growing leverage a nonprofit hospital system has in negotiating rates paid by insurers, employers and patients.

Big Hospital Clout Dictates Premiums: Hospital prices in the Sacramento region are among the highest in California, driven in large part by the negotiating clout of the hospital chain Sutter Health

Data analysis reveals wide variation in use of heart procedures: An analysis of data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development shows a wide variation in how often patients receive elective angioplasties and angiographies.

This webinar was held Sept. 13, 2011.