Report Fails Most State Doctor Information Sites

If you want your state’s help in assessing the quality of a doctor, good luck. Only a handful of states are adequate in providing such information according to a newly released report by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3).

The outfit is a wonky nonprofit whose mission is to help providers, employers and insurers measure health outcomes, reduce preventable errors, promote coordinated (team-based) care and support quality care through pay incentives. So there’s meaning in its determination, as reports, that “Most states fail when it comes to providing publicly available information on the quality of their physicians.”

Forty states and the District of Columbia received an “F” in the institute’s report, and four others got a “D.” Both are considered failing grades.

So most Americans – more than 4 in 5, according to the report – don’t have the information they need to make informed choices when they’re selecting a doctor.

We’ve often commented about the questionable nature of many doctor rating sites, particularly the wholly subjective input you find on social media such as Yelp, and how high ratings on insurance company sites might reflect more a doctor who offers the kind of care the insurance company wants instead of what the patient might actually need.

The HCI3 graded states on the availability of quality information on physicians as well as how accessible it was to the public. “The findings are disappointing,” Forbes summarized, “given the push by employers, insurance companies and health policymakers for more transparency in health care at a time millions more Americans have medical care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”

The first annual “State Report Card on Transparency of Physician Quality Information” by the institute was issued last year, and there was little improvement this time – only two states last year got “A” grades, and there were only two this year to do so – the same two states, Minnesota and Washington.

Only six states were awarded a grade of “C” or higher. In addition to the “As” for Minnesota and Washington, California and Maine received “Bs” and Wisconsin and Massachusetts each got a “C.”

The highly rated states compared doctor practices by several different performance measures as well as on patients’ experience in doctors’ offices. Minnesota’s HealthScores website, for example, measures and compares practices for common health issues including asthma care and colon cancer screenings.

The institute didn’t use information from health plans for its ratings. That’s because not only can they be less than objective, consumers often don’t trust insurer ratings. Advocates of transparency, according to Forbes, want states to disclose more doctor quality information to the public because they don’t have a particular commercial interest. Information from highly rated states typically comes directly from the doctor practice or hospital system.

“The goal of this report is to not only highlight efforts that are doing well, but also to grab the attention of lawmakers in states lacking this vital information for their residents,” said institute Executive Director Francois de Brantes in a statement accompanying the report. “If your state isn’t receiving an A or B, it can and should.”

“Consumers are flying blind when it comes to selecting hospitals and physicians, and the overall quality and affordability of American health care won’t be improved until we find a way to solve this problem.”

To learn more about how to choose a doctor, see Patrick’s newsletter, “New Ways to Find the Best Doctor.”

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