Still a work in progress
Providers skeptical of accuracy of CMS’ Physician Compare website
When he heard that the CMS had redesigned its Physician Compare website, Dr. Douglas Denham checked it out. “Other than my name being correct and that I practice in San Antonio, the rest of the information was incorrect,” Denham said. “I’ve never been at that address in my life. I’ve never had that phone number in my life.”
Investigating further, Denham went to a site called Wellness.com that listed his practice location from about 13 years ago.
The American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder database correctly listed his phone number and that Denham was an osteopathic family physician in San Antonio. But because he’s not an AMA member, that’s about all it listed. Even Google is not Denham’s friend. A law firm in Portland, Maine, whose lead partners have the last names of Douglas and Denham, gets listed in search results for “Douglas Denham” ahead of his practice’s website at abcfamilymedicine.com.
The Physician Compare website is intended to help consumers cut through that online noise. The site, called for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, went live in 2010 with a limited set of information. A revamped version launched last week adds an “intelligent search” feature and more information about the listed physicians.
A CMS official said the website is being developed in a phased approach and is proceeding according to plan. The schedule calls for adding quality measures in 2014—the CMS has agreed to a 30-day preview period allowing providers to review that information before it is posted.
Denham said the misinformation about him on the Web is not a concern for him because he practices out of a large assistedliving facility and doesn’t rely on patients finding their way to him online. But he figures the government should be able to find the right information on him without too much trouble; most of his patients are “retired military folks.”
Physician Compare’s listings are based on the CMS-run Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System (PECOS). Patrick Mills, director of healthcare finance for the Missouri State Medical Association, said any troubles with the website start there. “Check and recheck what’s on PECOS, that’s the message we’re pushing out,” Mills said. “That is the database that’s populating the content of the website.”
One of the upgrades to Physician Compare involves an “overhaul of the underlying data-
“CMS has the unenviable job of implementing what’s been put out there legislatively.”
—Patrick Mills Missouri State Medical Association
base,” which now cross-references information in PECOS with Medicare claims data from the previous 12 months. The redesigned website now includes information on whether a physician is participating in HHS’ financial incentive program for electronic health records, board certification and affiliations with hospitals and other professionals. It also includes a feature for physicians labeled “How to Keep Your Information Current,” where updates can be made.
Unlike the Hospital Compare website, which was launched in 2004 as something of a public-private partnership between hospital associations, government bodies and private organizations such as the Joint Commission, Physician Compare was mandated by the healthcare reform law. Previously, data was mostly limited to the physician’s location, specialty, education, languages spoken and gender, which critics noted was already available elsewhere on the Internet.
“CMS has the unenviable job of implementing what’s been put out there legislatively,” Mills said.
Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said his group has been sending in suggestions since the site launched. “It looks like some of the things we suggested were addressed,” he said. “The search engine seems to do a better job.” For example, Blackwelder said, the site returns listings for family physicians when users search for headaches or other general conditions.
Allison Brennan, senior advocacy adviser for the MGMA, also said that it appeared the website’s functionality had improved. Brennan added, however, that she had problems with a proposed star-rating system for quality measures that MGMA representatives were shown in Web page mockups in January. She was also concerned with having physicians’ listings note whether they are accepting new Medicare patients, which can change often.
While Physician Compare’s development is driven by the ACA, Hospital Compare started as a voluntary effort by the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and Association of American Medical Colleges. Nancy Foster, AHA vice president for quality and patient safety, said that institutions were fearful of a deluge of different data requests from competing quality websites. In response, they began a unified, voluntary data collection program in late 2003. Eventually, the CMS took over the enterprise as it gradually linked incentive payments to quality reporting.
Foster said she’s looking to see how much commonality the two websites will have beyond the similarity of their names. She said Physician Compare’s importance will be determined by how well it helps patients make a choice between doctors.
Cindy Morrison, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., said that anything the CMS may post about Sanford’s 1,400 employed doctors has already been posted by the organization itself. She added that despite the myriad online sources offering physician information, a friend or relative’s recommendation is still the strongest factor in a patient’s choice about which doctor to see.
Karen Zupko, president of Karen Zupko & Associates, a Chicago-based practice management consulting and training firm, said a more hands-on approach is needed to manage a physician’s Web presence. “Practices used to be built on word of mouth, now it’s word of mouse,” said Zupko, who recommends that a practice have someone in the office regularly monitor sites such as Angie’s List, HealthGrades, Vitals.com, WebMD and Yelp to see what’s being posted.