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Using website ratings to find a good doctor or hospital

October 21, 2010

A recent survey found that only 6% of Americans are familiar with a website operated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that allows consumers to look up information comparing hospitals on quality. There are probably several reasons why people don't make much use of the site -- called Hospital Compare -- in which ratings are based on data from standardized measurement tools. One reason may be that the public isn't invited to participate in the ratings process, say experts on healthcare quality.
In a commentary published Tuesday, Dr. Tara Lagu and Dr. Peter K. Lindenauer of Baystate Medical Center and the Tufts University School of Medicine argue that patients should be allowed to post their reviews on federally maintained hospital-quality-rating websites.
"[E]ngagement in the process of evaluating hospitals and clinicians may lead patients to use the information to guide choices about their care," they wrote in an essay in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.
In a study published earlier this year, Lagu found that doctors need not fear patients' Web postings. For the most part, consumers offer positive, constructive accounts of their care and suggestions for what doctors can do better to improve the patient's healthcare experience.
Moreover, allowing consumers to participate in healthcare ratings isn't unheard of. In the the United Kingdom, patients can write reviews of doctors and hospitals on the government's National Health Service website. Rules govern the content to keep it respectful, informative and to allow doctors to respond to the feedback.
Systems like Hospital Compare are important to improve hospital and doctor accountability and spur the pace of improvements. But they'll only help if patients know the websites exist and have a stake in the process.
-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times
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