It's common sense that patients and health-care providers can make better decisions about treatments, surgeries and, yes, even giving birth, if they have access to accurate information about costs and quality of care.

For people who have no health-care coverage, information about cost is vital. It may literally mean the difference between undergoing a needed procedure or surgery or not, which could impact their quality of life, if not their longevity.

Thanks to the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Health Data Committee, Utahns have ready access to information about hip and knee surgeries, maternity and newborn delivery, pneumonia hospitalizations and heart surgeries and conditions — all at the click of a computer mouse. The reports are available at

Such information helps patients to become better informed consumers of health-care services. They can review information about hospital charges, quality and patient safety. This will help them decide, in concert with their health-care provider, where, for instance, to have a hip replacement or give birth to a child.

Some patients are limited in their choices because of contractual arrangements between health insurance providers and hospitals, clinics or physician groups. When plans provide a wide array of choices, patients would benefit from examining the available data. Perhaps a community hospital has an equally good record for normal newborn deliveries as a large, metropolitan hospital. Perhaps costs are quite similar. It may make some sense to deliver the child at the community hospital, particularly if it is close to home and accepts the family's insurance.

This data should be viewed as a tool, not the final word. It does not include physician fees or other personal costs borne by patients, so it paints a somewhat incomplete picture. Still, it is better to have this information than to make these decisions blindly.

Making this information available to the public ought to further stimulate quality improvement in hospitals and among physicians, nurses, therapists and technicians, as well as the dietary, housekeeping and maintenance personnel. More importantly, such information empowers patients and their families to make choices they can afford and that are more likely to produce the best outcomes.