Consumer Reports Rates Mass. Physicians

Richard V. Aghababian, MDFrom magazines featuring “top doctors” to multiple websites of state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and commercial enterprises, physicians have been graded and rated on a host of criteria, in the interests of increasing transparency and improving care. But few offer comprehensive  or scientifically-based data.

Consumer Reports magazine, perhaps the biggest and most widely known judge of all, in creating its own Health Ratings Center, has set out to change that. In April, CR published ratings on heart surgeons in collaboration with the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Now, in concert with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, CR has focused on the Bay State, delivering a special 24-page report in its July issue for its Massachusetts readers rating the state’s primary care physician practices.

The ratings are based on MHQP’s patient experience survey, which asked questions of more than 47,000 adults and 16,000 parents about their experiences with their physicians.  Nearly 500 physician practices with three or more doctors are ranked.

Among the areas examined were how well physicians communicate with their patients, coordinate care, and know their patients, as well as the patient’s experience with other staff in the practice. In publishing the ratings, CR recognized the difficulty in rating an area like healthcare:  “…medical care is complex, and patient experience is only one measure of quality” but the magazine suggests that patient experience can affect clinical measures like managing conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

So how did Massachusetts primary care doctors rate?

“Most practices in the state earn one of the top two ratings across multiple measures in the survey,” CR wrote. “But nearly every practice has room for improvement.  Overall, scores for physician practices in Massachusetts have been on the upswing since the first patient experience survey in 2005” [the year MHQP began its patient experience surveys].

In reacting to the report, MMS President Richard Aghababian (photo, right) told the Associated Press that patient experience can be valuable as one piece of information for patients to use in selecting a physician.  But he echoed CR’s caveat — that patients should consider many other factors, such as recommendations from family or friends, treatment outcomes, doctor safety, and a doctor’s access to particular hospitals.

“It might be helpful to scan what other people have thought about this physician,” Dr. Aghababian said, “but it’s a very personal thing.  It’s not like you’re rating a motor vehicle. It’s a little bit hard to analyze human interaction.”

Dr. Aghababian also agreed with Consumer Reports that such ratings can be helpful to physicians. “If we can glean information from data like this, along with all the new data that’s flowing from medical research, if that will lead to better patient care, then we should take advantage of the information.”

To review the ratings, visit Massachusetts Health Quality Partners at www.mhqp.org

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