Any question in your mind about whether the consumer revolution in health care is real or not should be erased by the announcement that the National Qualify Forum is preparing for the day when consumers have more control.

The NQF, not an organization that usually acts quickly, is moving relatively fast in formulating its plan on how to develop standards for tools that help consumers to make decisions about their care. The NQF commissioned a white paper on such standards to inform members of an expert panel slated to meet by midyear. Recommendations from the panel are due by December.

The forum, which already has its hands full trying to rework its existing standards for a transforming health care system, recognizes the growing importance of patients as decision-makers. “People look to the future as to what will likely drive health care transformation, and a really important piece of that is the role of patients — patients setting goals, patients helping to make decisions,” says Helen Burstin, M.D., chief scientific officer for NQF.

Patients need high-quality assistance with medical decisions, such as a breast cancer patient having to choose between receiving a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. With patients taking on more of the responsibility for how to manage their care, Burstin says that the NQF wants to be confident that patients have access to assistance that is appropriate. In addition, offering standards and measures on decision aids may help to provide alternatives to vendors of medical devices or treatments that offer websites for patients that suggest a given choice, such as whether to get a knee replaced or not.

Key to the NQF’s effort is an existing consumer decision aid evaluation project underway in the Pacific Northwest through the Washington Health Care Authority, which is getting help from the International Patient Decision Aid Standards Collaborative, Burstin says.

The chief medical officer for the Washington HCA has been given statutory authority to certify patient decision aids and, as a result, the state is trying to come up with an appropriate process for doing so.

“We’re so lucky that there’s already this experiment in Washington state, we can build on years of thinking that’s happening with this international standards group,” Burstin says.

So far, the Washington effort has drafted certification criteria and gotten feedback from more than 60 stakeholders, providers, payers and consumers.

The first set of decision aids to be certified concern obstetric care. The authority also will require two accountable care programs for the state to use decision aids.