Five years ago, my mother needed an orthopedic surgeon for a knee replacement. Unable to find any data, we went with an academic doctor that was recommended to us (she suffered surgical complications). Last month, we were again looking for an orthopedic surgeon- this time hoping that a steroid injection in her spine might allay the need for invasive back surgery.
This time, thanks to a recent data dump from CMS, I was able to analyze some information about Medicare providers in her area and determine the most experienced doctor for the job. Of 453 orthopedic surgeons in Maryland, only a handful had been paid by Medicare for the procedure more than 10 times. The leading surgeon had done 263- as many as the next 10 combined. We figured he might be the best person to go to, and we were right- the procedure went like clockwork.
Had it been a month prior to the CMS data release, I wouldn’t have had the data at my fingertips. And I certainly wouldn’t have found the most experienced hand in less than 10 minutes.
It’s been a couple of months since the release of Medicare data by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) on the volume and cost of services billed by healthcare providers, and despite the whiff of scandal surrounding the highest paid providers (including the now-famous Florida ophthalmologist that received $21 million) the analyses so far have been somewhat unsurprising. This week, coinciding with the fifth Health DataPalooza, is a good time to take stock of the utility of this data, its limitations, and what the future may hold.