One of the more intriguing press releases I've received lately came from Healthgrades.com, self-described as “a new, one-of-a-kind Internet service that accurately and objectively rates the performance of health care providers and insurers across the United States.” When I checked out the site, I discovered that it offered a database of “leading physicians” in various specialties. Naturally, I checked to see whether my family physician was a leading physician. She is, I'm happy to say.
So physician report cards are not only here, it seems; they're already online for all. I bet you're already wondering if you, too, are a leading physician. As it turns out, there's a good probability that you are. I discovered that 58 percent of family physicians within 25 miles of my home are leading physicians, leaving only 42 percent to be what I guess must be following physicians.
And what makes you a leading physician? “Leading physicians are all board certified in their declared area of practice, have been in practice more than two years, are affiliated with a three-, four- or five-star hospital, and do not have any sanctions against them,” according to the Web site. Hmmm. Not much to it, is there? Discounting for a moment the fact that some excellent family physicians who are not board certified are apparently denied leading status, it doesn't seem to be too hard to be a leading physician — or to mean that much.
And there's more, if you listen to family physicians who have visited the site. Here are some comments from a recent e-mail list discussion:
“Not one of the family physicians in Cheyenne, Wyo., is listed, although all are board certified and have been in practice for up to 20 years.”
“About two thirds of physicians listed [for my city] are residents who have graduated and are no longer here.”
“I was happy to see that I am a leading physician … even though my hospital affiliation was not available and sanction data was not available for my state. My profile was woefully out of date and/or just plain incorrect.”
“I visited your site and searched for family physicians in [a specified ZIP code]. NONE of the listings that came back were completely accurate.”
If the experiences reported by these physicians are common, Healthgrades.com may be one more case of the old computer maxim: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Only here, by virtue of the power of the Internet, it might be more appropriate to say, “Garbage in, universally accessible physician report cards out.” A powerful thing, the Internet. Too bad that power is so precocious that it is not accompanied by the power to assemble accurate, clinically relevant, patient-oriented information about the quality of physicians.