When I started to examine data about care cost and quality, I was reminded of the difference between perception and reality.

My perception was that small, independent facilities would have lower quality. I had a suspicion that they were likely to cost more. I also assumed that if the flagship hospital of a major regional facility had a high rating, so would all its outlying clinics.

Well, I was wrong on all counts. Based on data, I learned the reality in our local market was exactly the opposite of my perceptions.

Being a member of The Alliance has helped me gain access to data about cost and quality. Equally important, I’ve learned how to interpret and apply this information to make better decisions about health benefits offered to the workforce at at Seats Incorporated, a 500-employee manufacturing firm based in Reedsburg, Wis.

I’ve spent my entire career in the manufacturing world, where we measure lots of things to gain a reality check on our performance as a company. Once you start to measure and you start to pay attention, you find out which things are underperforming and then figure out ways to make them work better. If you don’t, you’re missing an opportunity.

In the manufacturing environment, missing an opportunity to improve cost and quality means you’re likely to lose customers, because if you fail to provide good value they are going to go someplace else that offers better value.

My vision is that consumers will also learn how to use cost and quality data to start measuring the performance of local health providers so they make wise choices about how to spend their health care dollars.

We’ve started doing this at Seats Incorporated, where employees pay health insurance premiums that represent 30 percent of our costs. We self-fund our health benefits with The Alliance, so we’ve worked hard to help employees understand that the money spent on health benefits impacts the amount of money that is available for wages and other benefits.

We offer a variety of programs to help them manage their health care, including an onsite clinic that is free to employees and their family members, even if they do not participate in our health benefit plan.

I also have a vision that quality data will provide an incentive for improvement by the doctors, clinics, hospitals and other facilities that provide medical care. That movement has already started in some areas, but we need more attention to cost and quality at all levels.

Once everyone joins The Alliance in embracing the importance of care cost and quality measuring in health care – including consumers and health care providers as well as other players – we’ll have a real opportunity to help all of us get better health care for our money.