Physician Compare Needs an Immediate Tune-Up

Published on
January 5, 2011

Medicare's new consumer information site, Physician Compare, promises the same gold mine of data patients find when they use Hospital Compare or Nursing Home Compare.

But, unlike those sites, Physician Compare does not keep its promises.

The new feature was released last week. Antidote took it for a test drive over the weekend and found five big problems that need an immediate fix.

1. Stop forcing patients to pick a specialty. If you are looking for a urologist or oncologist, you want the ability to choose urology or oncology as a specialty. But if you are looking for the doctor your friend mentioned to you and aren't sure of that doctor's specialty, the site prevents you from finding that doctor because it forces you to pick a "type."

2. Add more names. I searched for the last six doctors any member of my family has seen. I could only find three of them in Physician Compare. These are well-established physicians with major practices, some of whom also hold faculty positions at local universities. They may be in the database somewhere, but, with the inability to search simply by last name without a specified specialty or city, they could be lost inside the database. They also could be missing entirely. A database that only works half of the time is going to leave a lot of people frustrated and disappointed.

3. Make board certification a requirement. By forcing consumers to pick a specialty, Medicare is telling consumers that the search results are limited to true practitioners in that specialty. But doctors can claim to be many things. Unless they are board-certified in their specialty, they have not had to prove their skill level in any standardized way. Take Dr. Conrad Murray, the doctor accused of killing Michael Jackson. He claims to be a cardiologist, but he does not have board certification in that specialty. At one point, he was board-certified in internal medicine, the precursor to certification in cardiovascular medicine. Yet, here Murray is in the Physician Compare database as "Conrad Murray MD, Cardiology, Internal Medicine."

4. Add physician discipline. There is nothing in the database about whether a physician has been disciplined by a medical board, has had to settle malpractice lawsuits, has lost court cases or has been criminally convicted. Dr. Christie Mensch in Sioux City, Iowa, has been disciplined repeatedly for methamphetamine use in Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. But, as far as Medicare is concerned, she is no different than any of the other doctors in the database.

5. Allow people to truly compare physicians. With Hospital Compare, you can pick three hospitals in your area and see how they performed in patient surveys about process measures such as whether patients reported that staff had "explained about medicines before giving it to them." You can compare death rates and the rates of readmission for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. One of the best pieces of information provided is how many patients have been seen for a certain procedure. Nursing  Home Compare is even more detailed and provides a star rating system, too. None of this information is available for doctors, but it should be. It would be great to know, for example, how many Medicare patients a doctor has seen for hip replacement procedures before going under the knife.

Physician Compare is a nice start, but Antidote hopes Medicare keeps building it out with the same care and attention to detail it has given to Hospital Compare and Physician Compare.

Have a suggestion for Physician Compare, or for Antidote? Write