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When it comes to ensuring health care quality, transparency by medical providers should be at the top of the list.

Transparency about patient outcomes, physician expertise and training and number of patients treated are critical pieces of information for patients and families as they make decisions about choosing hospitals, physicians and treatments.

When patients and families face very complex medical conditions and need high-risk procedures performed, transparency becomes more important than ever. Pediatric heart surgery is a prime example of this type of specialty - in which parents are often literally placing the lives of their children in physicians' hands.

While facing a potentially life-threatening heart defect in a child (or indeed a life-threatening condition in any loved one) is obviously an incredibly stressful situation for a family, the more information they can gather before a procedure, the better. Organizations such as the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, or PCHA, exist in part to educate patient families on the importance of asking probing questions, to arm them with facts and guidance and then to empower them to advocate for their loved ones in the health care setting. This knowledge is all in the spirit of ensuring quality care.

Questions families should ask before going ahead with a specific procedure include:

- How many times have you/your program performed this procedure in the past year? In the past four years?

- What specialty training do your providers have?

- What is the expected survival rate for this type of procedure in this hospital? How do your results compare with results nationally?

- Do you share your procedural results with relevant national data programs?

- Is your information regarding outcomes publicly available?

(A complete list, along with additional resources, can be found on the PCHA website at www.conqueringchd.org.)

And if a provider doesn't answer these questions to your satisfaction, it is always appropriate to ask for a second opinion.

We're proud to be part of a pediatric heart center that is committed to quality outcomes, patient safety and transparency. That is why we have been publicly posting our Heart Institute outcomes data to our website for the past four years. And we feel strongly that all programs that conduct pediatric heart surgery should do the same.

Above all, in today's health care world where families are often faced with a variety of treatment options and providers, patients and their families must feel empowered to access the information they need in order to make informed decisions about their or their loved ones' care. A key tenet of that is transparency regarding outcomes on the part of providers.

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Dr. Robert Greensides is a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Hospital Colorado Urgent and Outpatient Specialty Care at Briargate in Colorado Springs. Dr. Dunbar Ivy holds the Selby's Chair in Pediatric Cardiology at Children's Hospital Colorado. He is also co-director of the hospital's Heart Institute and director of its Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension Program.

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