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Consumer Reports now rating medical practices

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Consumer Reports, medical practices, physician rating, primary care

Many Americans refer to Consumer Reports magazine when considering the purchase of a new appliance, TV set, or automobile. Now, the periodical has added a new category: your doctor. A special July issue of the magazine is limited to the state of Massachusetts; it rates 490 primary care practices in the state. The report is also available online.

The Massachusetts special edition will have a different cover, highlighting the topic: “'How Does Your Doctor Compare?” and will feature a special, 24-page insert with the Ratings of medical practices. If the pilot program proves successful, Consumer Reports will add other states. The Ratings were compiled in collaboration with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (MHQP), a coalition of consumers, government agencies, hospitals, insurers, physicians, and researchers. Since 2006, MHQP has published statewide patient experience surveys; the data from its 2011 report forms the basis of the Consumer Reports score card. The ratings of 329 adult practices and 158 pediatric practices are derived from MHQP's data. If expansion into other states occurs, Consumer Reports will partner with organizations similar to MHQP in those states.

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The survey covered 47,565 adults and 16,530 parents of children. The 487 medical practices covered in the report each comprised at least three physicians apiece. All respondents had commercial health insurance. The medical practices are rated in performance areas such as physician-patient communication, care coordination, and timely appointments. The ratings are defined by the familiar Consumer Reports red, black, and white dots employed by the rating organization. Red is “excellent” and black is “poor.” They measure the willingness of patients to recommend the practice to others. The survey also queried patients about their experiences with the rest of the office staff, such as receptionists, medical assistants, and insurance billers. The survey was tailored to the two patient groups; parents received a different set of questions because children have different health issues. Consumer Reports recommends that patients make sure that their physician is aware of the care they get from other providers; in addition to other physicians, the organization recommends that their physician should receive input from acupuncturists, chiropractors, herbalists, and other alternative healthcare practitioners. This is recommended because it should not only improve quality of care but also avoid duplicative care.

Most practices received one of the top two ratings: “excellent” or “very good.” However, the report noted that most medical practices have some room for improvement. A few highlights: 63% of respondents said their physician was always informed and up-to-date about the care they received from specialists; 72% said someone always followed up with them to provide results on blood tests, X-rays, or other tests; and 57% percent said the front-office staff was always as helpful as they should be.

Take home message:

Several decades ago, most primary care physicians received new referrals from satisfied patients. Many physicians were solo practitioners and patients often had a choice in their health insurance. Most medical practices had alliances with the major ones. Today, group practices are the norm, and patients are often limited to a list of preferred providers. In today’s times a patient referral will often not work because the provider is not a member of the plan. The Consumer Report rating will provide some objective input for patients searching for a new physician; however, one must exert caution in relying on the rating system. A practice rated “good” or “very good” might turn out to be a better choice than one with an “excellent” rating. Obviously, one should exert extreme caution before receiving care from a practice rated as “poor.” It is best to call or even visit several medical practices before making a choice; thus, you will obtain further input.

Reference: Consumer Reports