Help make Medicare's Physician Compare site more patient friendly

Published on
February 18, 2011

Consumers Union is offering a great opportunity for people focused on health care and health journalism to make their voices heard.

From now until next Friday, Feb. 25, Consumer Union's Safe Patient Project will be gathering opinions from people about Medicare's new Physician Compare site to submit as part of Medicare's open comment period on the site.

This week, Safe Patient project circulated my piece about Physician Compare asking Consumers Union members to either back my suggestions or add some of their own. My suggestions were simple. I said the site should:

1. Stop forcing patients to pick a specialty. Many patients don't know what their doctor's specialty is, and restricting the search this way creates frustration and confusion.

2. Add more doctors' names. Too many searches turn up blanks.

3. Make board certification a requirement for a doctor to list a specialty. By allowing doctors to list specific fields by their names, it gives the appearance that Medicare has vetted their qualifications.

4. Show people which doctors have been in trouble. They should show discipline by state medical boards, malpractice settlements, court judgments and criminal convictions. At a minimum, the site should show whether a doctor has been banned from receiving Medicare payments at any time.

5.Allow people to truly compare physicians by building on Medicare's earlier successes. The site should offer the same features that can be found with Hospital Compare and Nursing Home Compare. There you can see how hospitals performed in patient surveys about process measures and compare death rates and the rates of readmission for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. For nursing homes, there is even a star rating system.

The Safe Patient Project's Campaign Manager, Lisa McGiffert, said that, in addition to adding those features, the site should allow patients to compare more than just three doctors (or hospitals or nursing homes) at a time. This would allow people to really see the breadth of medical talent in their area. I suggested to McGiffert that they invite everyone to comment, especially reporters who use the three databases regularly.

To help the effort to make Physician Compare better, send your suggestions with "Physician Compare" in the subject line to:

They will pool the ideas and make recommendations to Medicare.

Also, Medicare has contracted the group Quality Insights to gather comments through this form.

Whatever you do, make your comments heard over the next week. David Lansky, CEO of the Pacific Business Group on Health and Steven Findlay, a senior health policy analyst at Consumers Union, wrote a piece in December for iHealthBeat that sums up the urgency of the situation:

Physician Compare is being launched as forces propel us into a new era of health care accountability. Implemented well, it has the potential to be a game changer for consumers, but only if the government is bold, decisive and innovative. Yes, the site must be fair to doctors, but we have a right to know how doctors measure up when we put our lives in their hands.  

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