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HEALTH CARE: A CONSUMER"S GUIDE

When It Comes to Ratings for Doctors, We Have a Ways to Go

September 27, 1999|SYLVIA PAGAN WESTPHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The main hurdle to evaluating individual doctors is collecting information to rank them. While HMOs can collect data on thousands of patients with similar conditions, focusing on a single doctor brings in statistical complications.

Answers might come eventually. According to David Lansky, president of the Foundation for Accountability, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization that focuses on health care quality issues, strategies are being developed for measuring doctors' competency across the board, regardless of their care of specific medical conditions.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 4, 1999 Home Edition Health Part S Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong Web address--A story last week about the Pacific Business Group on Health's ratings of HMOs and medical groups gave the incorrect Web site address. The correct address is http://www.healthscope.org. Also, the Web site for PacifiCare Health Systems' ratings of physician groups should have been listed as http://www.pacificare.com/california/members/qindex/.

Meanwhile, in the absence of doctor rankings, a patient need not pick a physician at random. Cheryl Damberg, director of research and quality at the Pacific Business Group on Health, suggests that once a doctor's basic credentials have been checked, the patient should investigate the next available quality indicator: the medical group to which a physician belongs.

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In California, three health plans currently publish ratings of affiliated medical groups. Orange County-based PacifiCare Health Systems publishes ratings for 187 physicians groups that provide care for its 2.3 million members. The list, at http://www.healthscope.com, ranks groups on performance in several areas of preventive care. They also include information on how satisfied members are with the plan and their primary care physician.

In a similar fashion, Health Net and Blue Cross of California publish their own medical group ratings, which can be accessed at http://www.healthnet.com and http://www.bluecrossca.com. When looking at the ratings, patients should focus on areas of care that matter most to them, advises Dr. Sam Ho, PacifiCare's vice president and corporate medical director. A new parent will likely require different services from a medical group than a senior citizen will, and patients should look for groups offering the best care in their specific area of need, Ho said.

Also, choosing a well-ranked medical group makes it likelier that an individual doctor will provide better care.

"The groups that have high scores, in general, might have better performing doctors," Ho said.

But don't assume that because a medical group has excellent ratings, their physician will be just as good, experts say.

After you narrow your list of prospective doctors to two or three, the old-fashioned way of picking a doctor--meeting him or her in person--is still the best way to make a final choice.

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