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Providers skeptical of expanded Physician Compare site


By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: June 27, 2013 - 8:00 am ET
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The CMS is touting its redesigned Physician Compare website as being a more useful and usable tool for the public to check out physicians and other healthcare providers. But provider organizations remain skeptical, saying they'll believe it when they see it.

Mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Physician Compare website went live in 2010. Previously, it included such information as providers' location, specialty, education, languages spoken and gender, which critics noted was already available elsewhere on the Internet. Types of providers in the database include physicians, chiropractors, dentists, podiatrists, anesthesia assistants, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, dieticians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, social workers and physical, occupational and speech therapists.

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A CMS official said the website is being developed in a phased approach and it's proceeding according to plan, with the plan's latest updates being spelled out in the 2012 Medicare physician fee schedule (See pages 274-280 of the PDF).

The official said the highlights of the redesign include better search features and an “overhaul of the underlying database,” which now cross-references information in the Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System, or PECOS, with the Medicare claims data from the previous 12 months.

An “intelligent search” feature allows users to locate healthcare professionals by name, specialty, medical group name, street address, ZIP code or even proximity to a landmark, such as a shopping mall. Users now can also search for experts of a particular condition or body part.

The redesigned website now includes information on whether a physician is participating in HHS' electronic health record financial incentive program, board certification and affiliations with hospitals and other professionals. (A video highlighting the main features of the redesign is available on the CMS YouTube channel.)

Plans call for adding quality measures in 2014. The CMS has agreed to a 30-day preview period, where providers can view the information before it is posted.

“We received tons of feedback,” the official said regarding the redesign, noting providers' main concern was ensuring the information's accuracy.

Allison Brennan, senior advocacy adviser for the Medical Group Management Association, agreed with that assessment.

“We've had concerns with Physician Compare since it was launched,” Brennan said. “We've heard the information often is not correct, which was detrimental to beneficiaries looking for information and to the physicians and practices patients were looking for.”

She noted one problem is that if a practice had multiple locations, it appeared the website randomly selected one address to post; this address could have been the practice's main headquarters or a small satellite office.

Brennan said in January that MGMA was shown a mock version of the redesigned website and it appeared the functionality had improved. But she said she had problems with a proposed star rating system for quality measures and whether to include information on if a practice is accepting new Medicare patients.

She explained that a practice's Medicare-acceptance status can change due to providers leaving the group or over concern that Medicare payments will be subject to decreases driven by the Medicare sustainable-growth rate physician payment formula.

“We don't think it (Medicare acceptance status) should be included,” Brennan said.

While MGMA has been commenting and providing the CMS with feedback, Cindy Morrison, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., said her system has not. She said information listed on Physician Compare about Sanford's 1,400 employed doctors has already been posted by the organization itself.

“We're pretty aggressive about making sure our physicians' information is out there,” Morrison said. “We use a concept called redundancy, because different people access information differently.”

In addition to printed directories, Sanford's website and the intranet for its 26,000 employees, Sanford released a physician directory on a free iPhone app about two months ago. Within the first week or so, 2,000 people had downloaded the app. These sources include physicians' expertise and secondary specialties, education and certification, philosophies of care, research activities, languages spoken and even personal hobbies and interests.

“We've found that some people want physicians who have the same interests they have,” Morrison said.

Although she said it's good that the CMS posts information, she added that despite the myriad of online venues offering physician information, a friend or relative's recommendation is the strongest factor that helps a person decide which physician to choose.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks


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