New Physician Rating Site Looks to 'Encourage Healthy Competition'

June 30, 2011

Whether the thought of public performance feedback makes you excited or anxious, you may want to check your performance scores. They could be playing a larger role in your work life than you think.

Physicians who thought grading ended in medical school - think again. A new tool is making it easier than ever before for patients to judge providers based on key performance measures.

The tool, an online directory, created by healthcare research and development organization the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, links to 197 free and publicly available reports in 46 states, as well as 27 reports with information on the performance of physicians and hospitals nationwide.

Whether the thought of public performance feedback makes you excited or anxious, you may want to check your performance scores. They could be playing a larger role in your work life than you think.

Here’s why. While rating doctors is no new concept, the RWJF directory is more comprehensive than most currently available. That’s because the data comes from a respected national foundation, vastly different than the independent doctor rating sites. And its content reflects that.

Instead of pulling assessments from one resource as most physician rating tools do, the RWJF directory provides convenient access to data from the most reputable resources across the country. And the directory features all types of reports - from statewide assessments, to those that focus on individual physicians.

The directory is also easily accessible. Patients need only to scroll over the map, choose their state, and search for physicians within that state based on the criteria available. Items measured include whether patients receive recommended tests and treatment, the outcome of care patients receive, the patient’s assessment of provider, and the overall cost of care.

The directory is not fully comprehensive, especially when it comes to primary-care providers. In fact, physicians in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Alabama are lucky, or unlucky, depending on how they view the grading - they’re not yet included.

But that may change quickly.

The number of patients using technology to interact with their providers is growing - daily. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, an independent opinion research group, found that 80 percent of Internet users look for health information online.

It’s only natural that patients will begin searching for providers through the Internet, using resources like the RWJF tool. With increased demand from patients, more and more comprehensive assessment measures will begin cropping up.

All in all, physician grading resources should be a good thing. For physicians, performance measures can help them recognize key areas to improve. For patients, it can help them make smart decisions about providers.

The RWJF directory will “encourage healthy competition amongst healthcare systems and physicians to improve their product,” John Hickner, M.D., M.S., chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement.

However, physician assessment tools have their drawbacks.

Ratings based on patient assessment of care are not always accurate or truthful. One disgruntled or exaggerated comment may not appropriately represent a physician’s ability. And an inaccurate assessment may discourage future patients from visiting your practice.

The AMA has also expressed concern and caution when it comes to other physician assessment resources (not the RWJF resource), that are based on cost of care from health insurer physician profiling programs.

In a letter sent last year to 47 health plan companies, the AMA stated, “Physician’s reputations are being unfairly tarnished using unscientific methodologies and calculations.”