The Patient's Prerogative

Finding information online on hospitals
After weeks of pain, Chuck Prigge is deciding whether to have back surgery, and he's making his decision online.

His hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, puts surgery results on the Internet.

Chuck can see that 62 percent of Dartmouth's back surgery patients achieve symptom relief and that 85 percent would choose surgery again, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports.

"I think it's excellent all this information available," said Prigge.

It's only a matter of time before most American hospitals post a lot more information about quality. What does surgery cost? How often does it work? Are the doctors at the hospital good at what they do?

Starting tomorrow, Medicare will post a Web report card on hospitals, listing the death rates for heart attacks and heart failure. At least 20 state-funded Web sites post similar statistics — all with the idea of exposing substandard hospitals.

See a list of these Web sites and more resources
"You post data for a lot of reasons — one of which is to hold people accountable for their results," says Jim Conway of the Institute for Health Care Improvement.

At Dartmouth, hundreds of results are already online. Patients fill out laptop surveys. When a procedure doesn't work as often as it should, the patients know — and so do the doctors.

Has this changed how some doctors practice medicine?

"Yes it has," replied Dr. William Abdu, who says the information has led to fewer back surgeries because, "We are basing our decisions on patient preference, not on surgeon preference. The patients are educated about their options and their outcomes based on those options."

Prigge is leaning in favor of surgery because of what he learned online.

"I think it's an honest way to go, to be able to tell what experiences people have had," he said.

A 62 percent success rate tells him that not everyone gets perfect results. But thanks to an information revolution, at least he knows the odds.