Shopping for a Doctor or Hospital? Expanded Website Helps You Compare

(Andrea Marutti/Flickr)

(Andrea Marutti/Flickr)

Say you want to buy a car. One of the first places you might think about going for ratings and reviews is Consumer Reports. For decades, the magazine has published reviews of all manner of consumer products.

“We want to level the playing field” for consumers. 
You might not know it, but Consumer Reports also publishes reviews on hospitals and physician groups. Starting Wednesday Californians can access that information — free — on CalQualityCare.org, a website run by the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF). This site already features reviews of hospitals and nursing homes.

Launching just days after Jan. 1, when new insurance took effect for hundreds of thousands of Californians via the Covered California marketplace, the revamped site offers consumers information to help them choose hospitals, nursing homes and doctor groups.

“Making this information easy to digest for the consumer is so key,” said Andy Krackov, senior program officer for CHCF. Previously, the foundation had maintained separate websites for hospitals and long-term care facilities. In this new partnership with Consumer Reports, CHCF has merged its separate websites to create a one-stop resource for comparison data. The site has no advertising.

While consumers might find it ideal to look up ratings on specific physicians, Dr. John Santa, the medical director of Consumer Reports Health, promptly pointed out the challenge in going to that level of detail. “There’s 500 cars we rate. We rate 5,000 hospitals, but 900,000 physicians (in the U.S.) is daunting,” he said. Still, the group your doctor practices in “is a big deal, because a lot of your care gets delivered” by others in the practice, not just other physicians —  but nurses and medical assistants, too.

While the hospital and nursing home ratings leverage data that show outcomes — including hospital readmission rates, death rates and wait times in emergency departments (just to name a few) — the physician group ratings derive solely from patient surveys, a limited measure.

Santa pointed out that the “holy grail” of physician ratings would be to include three factors: patient experience information, measurements showing “how good they are as clinicians,” meaning how well they keep you healthy or care for you when you are sick and, finally, cost of care.

The collection of ratings information is “a journey, not a destination,” Santa said, and added that he hoped that his group might be able to gather metrics in those three key areas by 2015.

Visitors can fill out a survey on their own doctor, a step toward creating a database of reviews at the individual doctor level. But user beware: When I tried it out on my own doctor, the address it showed was not the one where he practices. It turns out it was the address for the medical group itself.

Krackov said the upgraded CalQualityCare.org website “aligns nicely” with the “open data” movement. The more governments make data more available, it also opens up opportunities for other parties to “innovate with this data,” he said. Those groups could be entrepreneurs, community activists or even journalists.

From Santa’s perspective, the site also aligns with the Consumer Reports mission. “We want to level the playing field,” he said. “We’re doing exactly what the founders of Consumer Reports wanted to do in the ’30s. They felt like advertising and promotion would be bad for consumers. … Given that health is filled with advertising and promotion now, it’s a great era for us.”

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