To create the ratings, Consumer Reports partnered with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (MHQP), a nonprofit that since 2006 has been surveying Massachusetts consumers about their experiences with doctors and reporting the data.
Consumer Reports is dipping its toe into an increasingly popular area. The organization is working with groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota to develop physician ratings in those states as well, although they won’t be focused on patient experience as they are in Massachusetts, says John Santa, director of the company’s health ratings center. Minnesota’s ratings will focus on quality of care, while Wisconsin’s will focus on preventive care.
“We’re trying to learn about this,” says Santa. “For us, physician ratings is a journey, not a destination.”
There are many ways to assess a physician’s competence, but patient reports of their one-on-one experiences — whether the doctor is a good listener, for example, or spends enough time with each patient — are more than just feel-good measures, says Barbra Rabson, executive director of MHQP. “Studies show that the better the patient experience, the better the clinical outcome,” she says.
Massachusetts doctors support the project, says Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “We want all of our physicians to feel they should be accountable for the care they provide,” he says.
It helps that physicians say they are comfortable with the methodology behind the ratings. The Massachusetts ratings are based on surveys completed by more than 64,000 adults. To be considered statistically reliable, a certain number of responses about an individual physician had to be received, says Rabson.
More than 50 Web sites rate physicians, according to Guodong Gordon Gao, co-director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at the University of Maryland School of Business. In contrast to the Massachusetts ratings, some sites allow consumers to log on and rate individual physicians anonymously. Physicians generally don’t like such sites, saying there is no accountability and no way for doctors to defend themselves against criticism.