Beware of bogus doctor and hospital ratings

As we move the national conversation on medical care toward patient empowerment it’s important that patients are empowered by useful information. The internet is well stocked with sites that rate the quality of docs and hospitals. The trouble is that most of them are garbage.

As WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson explained to Adam Searing in this interview, an entire ratings industry has emerged over the past several years. Most of these websites, which are frequently cited by the press, give bogus measures of quality.

One doctor wrote on Slate about how easily he could stuff his own ballot box and pump up his satisfaction scores.

Measuring quality is slippery. You can quantify one outcome at a hospital, for example, and publish the results. But maybe a hospital is great in the one area that was ranked and terrible in every other way. Patient satisfaction is also tricky. People are overly impressed by the outer beauty of a hospital without understanding the guts of the operation.

There are a few helpful guides for patients.

The NC Quality Center puts out some useful information that is easy to search. And the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains the Medicare Hospital Compare website, which is packed with data. You can find some rudimentary facts about a physician from the North Carolina Medical Board. And Consumer Reports is a good resource.

Hospitals and doctors have a part to play in checking the flow of worthless ratings. It’s easy to dismiss the results of a magazine or website where your hospital performs poorly. But providers should refrain from touting bogus rankings even when declared the best doctor or hospital in the universe. Or better yet, a hospital could note that it’s flattered but doesn’t consider the rating legitimate.

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