Website collects Albertans’ experience with ER care

By Rosie Lombardi

Andrew NeunerThe Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) recently unveiled a website that collects and presents information culled from patient surveys and administrative health data about the quality of care received at 16 ERs across the province. The website uses simple graphics to visualize information in 18 categories delving into wait times, staff responsiveness and other quality metrics. The HQCA is now working on another ambitious project: developing a similar site to provide aggregate information about primary healthcare providers.

The hospital ER website, called Focus, is the first its kind in Canada, says Andrew Neuner (pictured), CEO at HQCA.

“Different jurisdictions report on bits and pieces, but none have pulled together data from 16 hospital ERs and harmonized it like we have. In Alberta, we have a single health authority that governs all our hospitals, so that made it a bit easier than it might be in other regions. But we still had to go through quite a process to make sure that the data and definitions were standardized across the system.”

Neuner says automated phone surveys are conducted every two weeks of people seen at the ER, and about 30 percent of patients respond. “Through an aggregation of all those interviews, we compile the data into 18 categories about their experience of care when they were at the hospital, which results in overall care rating in some areas. We ask questions like: Did staff try to help reduce your pain? How long did you wait for an X-ray? Did staff explain the side-effect of your medications to you?”

None of the ERs were rated number one or were at the bottom for all metrics, he says. “Every one has something to be proud of and something to improve. And the site does group hospitals in four main peer groupings, so fair comparisons are made between like-sized emergency departments.”

In addition to surveys, people can leave comments via a feedback button on every page of the website. “We’ve received a lot of feedback from individuals who want to share their stories. And we’ve also received comments from staff who work in ERs. It’s been very positive and we’ve received some very good feedback,” he says.

The site has not needed a comments editor to screen responses because the feedback has been civil and helpful, and commentary categories may be expanded in the future. “Whatever their views are, it matters to us. So we will keep track and where we start seeing themes emerge because people comment on the same kinds of things, we may add new categories or other features to improve the site. We really want the website reflect what the public thinks is important, not the HQCA. It’s an expression of the collective wisdom of all our stakeholders, who said, ‘If you’re going to report something publicly, then these are the things that matter to us.’”

For the next phase, the HQCA will be developing a similar site for primary care providers which will likely be completed by the end of 2017. Invitations have already been sent to various stakeholders to join in the process.

Neuner says his team is not daunted by the prospect of developing a site for hundreds of doctors and clinics. “We have access to a lot of data already and we provide physicians with that data on an annual basis. We’re already doing a lot of the experience measures with patients. So I think we have a lot of the basics, and it will be a matter of connecting with our stakeholders and making sure that we display data in meaningful way,” he says, adding that the team will likely be using different modalities, like e-mail surveys, to get feedback.

Several officials in other provinces have expressed an interest in the website, including Joshua Tepper from the Health Quality Council of Ontario. “What we’ve done here would be, I think, of enormous value to other jurisdictions that are wanting to do a health system monitoring body of work for the public. We’re more than willing to share our ideas to help launch similar websites across Canada.”

For more information, visit