Of the many hidden gems in the Affordable Care Act, one of my favorites is Physician Compare. This website could end up being a game changer—holding doctors accountable for their care and giving consumers a new way to compare and choose doctors. Or it could end up a dud.
The outcome depends on how brave and resolute the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is over the next few years. That’s because the physician lobby has been less than thrilled with Physician Compare, and, for that matter, with every other effort to publically report measures of physician performance and quality.
I’d give CMS a C+ to date. Not bad considering it’s the tough task. The agency has been cautious and deliberate. But after the many problems with Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare, and Dialysis Facility Compare—not to mention the shadow of healthcare.gov’s initial rollout—that’s understandable. They want, I hope, to get this one right from the get-go. And competition from the private sector looms.
By year’s end, the Department of Health and Human Services will announce plans for making its Physician Compare website into a consumer-friendly source of information for Medicare patients about the quality of care provided by doctors and other health care providers. In doing so, Physician Compare will take its place alongside Hospital Compare and more than 250 other websites that offer information about the quality and cost of health care. More importantly, perhaps, it will send an important signal that transparency in health care is the new normal.
To look at these 250-plus online reports is to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of the public reporting aspect of the transparency movement. Some make it easy for people to make choices among physicians and hospitals, and just as notably, let providers see where they fall short and need to improve care. But others ask too much, forcing users to sort through rows and rows of eye-glazing data and jargon that requires a medical degree to fathom.
The Affordable Care Act calls for Physician Compare to offer information about the quality of care, including what physicians and their practices did and the outcome for patients, as well as care coordination; efficiency and resource use; patient experience and engagement; and safety, effectiveness, and timeliness. That’s a lot of information, and it demonstrates the tall order facing the federal government to make the reports meaningful and accessible, so that physicians and patients will both be more apt to use them.Continue reading…
Have you ever tried to use Medicare data to research a hospital? If so, I bet you’ve been disappointed.
Let’s say you live in Las Vegas and you have heart problems. There are three hospitals nearby. You’d like to know the answer to a simple question. “If I ever have a heart attack where should I tell the ambulance to take me?”
Medicare’s Web site that holds this information is called Hospital Compare. If you visit and search for Las Vegas heart attack care, above is what you’ll find.
Is that helpful?
As you can see the three hospitals within your search are all rated “No Different than U.S. National Rate.” In other words, they are all average. Do the same search in every other city that has more than one hospital and you’re likely to find the same thing. Or you might find that there was not even enough data to calculate an average result.
If you want to find a hospital that’s exceptional, there’s no way to search for it. You can also can’t search for a dud.
The launch of Medicare’s Physician Compare website at year-end should have been a watershed event in the long campaign for health care transparency and patient empowerment. Instead – and it pains me to write this – Physician Compare is a case study in how the interests of the average citizen can be shunted aside by indifferent government, lazy journalists and solipsistic special interests. That remains true despite all of those involved being Good People Trying To Do The Right Thing.
In reality, the site is confusing and unfriendly to consumers, painfully slow and, worst of all, factually unreliable. Put bluntly, the agency, whose leader famously called himself a “patient-centered … extremist” in a 2009 Health Affairs article, has produced a consumer tool that practically shouts, “We couldn’t care less whether any consumer ever uses this.”
Fortunately for CMS, most of the journalists writing about the site apparently did little more than cut and paste the government press release description of it into their own stories. If I were a federal flack, I’d drink a toast to that famous Marx Brothers movie line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”