New “Physician Compare” Website Doesn’t Impress

Patient safety advocates like me have long dreamed of cracking open for the public the vast trove of data the government collects on doctors, so patients could figure out who gets the best outcomes and guide their doctor choices accordingly. Medicare was supposed to start down that path with its new “Physician Compare” website, but alas, it has a long way to go.

One critic says the new site “is confusing and unfriendly to consumers, painfully slow and, worst of all, factually unreliable. Put bluntly, the agency … has produced a consumer tool that practically shouts, ‘We couldn’t care less whether any consumer ever uses this.'”

The quotation is from Michael L. Millenson, President of Health Quality Advisors LLC, writing on the Kaiser Health News website.

The Medicare site has basic information about doctors, like their practice address, but misses out on many tidbits that consumers want to know:

* Hospitals they practice at
* Malpractice history
* Where they trained
* Board certification.

Those kinds of things can be found at commercial sites like for a small fee. Or you can search one of the sites that lists doctors’ board certifications, like
the American Board of Internal Medicine, which certifies internists.

The quality information that consumers really crave, such as surgeons’ complication rates or incidence of wound infections, lies off in the future somewhere. Medicare says it will begin adding quality data to the site in 2012, with a formal launch date in 2013. Don’t hold your breath.

Meantime one surgical specialty group, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, has collaborated with Consumers Reports to publish quality data on heart and chest surgeons. Read our blog entry on this here.

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