Doctor grading system falls short on information

"Physician Compare," a doctor grading system meant to increase transparency and empower patients doesn't measure up, researchers find.
scoring panel (Physician Compare concept)

A system created to grade doctors and empower patients to make better decisions fails to meet its goal of providing useful information to consumers, according to a new study.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set up the “Physician Compare” website to increase transparency and empower patients and caregivers on quality of care.

The site is now on its final phase of expansion and has focused on adding clinician-level performance data, in addition to the data about the performance of groups of physicians.

For the new study, researchers analyzed records of more than 1 million US providers caring for Medicare beneficiaries.

They found that less than a quarter of providers have quality information on Physician Compare and only 1 percent have clinician-level quality information.

“This study is important for two reasons,” says Jun Li, a doctoral candidate in the health management and policy department at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “First, patients and caregivers want information to be able to make informed choices. Thus, it is important to determine whether that need is being met.

Additionally, federal policymakers are expending a great deal of resources toward Physician Compare, therefore it is imperative that we know how well it is functioning and whether it needs to be improved.”

Among the team’s key findings:

  • Three quarters of clinicians have no performance data in the system.
  • 99 percent of those in the system have no clinician-level data.
  • Performance reflects only a narrow view of quality indicators such as safety, patient satisfaction, and communication.

To increase the reliability of the system, the researchers suggest making major revisions to the website, or determining whether a different approach might help achieve the Health and Human Services’ goal of increasing transparency around the quality of health care.

For the analysis, which appears in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers used data from the Physician Compare National Downloadable File and the 2015 Medicare Data on Provider Practice and Specialty database, and included 1,025,015 US providers caring for Medicare beneficiaries.

Additional coauthors are from the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago.

Source: University of Michigan

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