Sites that rely on commercial databases for background information may also have incorrect details, like whether a doctor is board certified, said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. Consumer Reports offers hospital and health plan ratings on its site, but does not yet rate doctors. Santa said that's because details about the nation's 800,000 physicians in the country is scattered, sometimes unreliable and sometimes hard to compare because definitions of certain terms can vary by state.
Santa recommended checking state Web sites to make sure doctors are licensed and see if they have been disciplined. For specialists, check the American Board of Medical Specialties site to see if they are board certified in their specialty.
Another source for information for people in 14 states is a project sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that brings together information provided by doctors, insurance companies and employers to measure performance.
The project uses scientific standards measuring good care, explained Anne Weiss, director of the foundation's Quality/Equality health care team. Their approach takes into account more than just personal experience and looks at issues like cost and health results, in some cases for specific illnesses like diabetes or breast cancer.
Several of the foundation's sites, particularly the ones for Wisconsin and Maine, see spikes in usage during open enrollment season. In some communities, employers are using the information to chose health care plans to offer to workers, Weiss said. The Aligning Forces for Quality project sites can be accessed through the foundation's Web site.
"What's the most exciting thing about this developing online information is that people understand that in every community and in every doctor's office, good care and bad care is provided," said Weiss.
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