Whether it's a hernia repair or heart bypass, doctors with a lot of experience performing a given operation tend to have better results. The problem for patients in choosing a physician has been finding out which ones have the know-how.
Now a court ruling appears to open the way for consumer access to such information for the first time, potentially transforming the relationship between doctors and patients, as well as the business of healthcare.
In a little-noticed decision last week, a federal judge in Washington, ruled in favor of a consumer group that sued HHS to allow disclosure of specific data about doctors from the Medicare claims database.
With information on more than 40 million patients and 700,000 doctors, the Medicare database is far richer than any private insurer's. Though it does not have information on some doctors, such as pediatricians, who don't treat Medicare patients, it is considered the mother lode for data on those who treat adults, because Medicare recipients are a mainstay of most practices.
The database's usefulness has been limited by a decades-old government policy that protects the privacy of doctors, who fear the information could be used to micromanage the practice of medicine. But as the cost of medical care has skyrocketed, employers, insurers and consumer groups have pressured the government to open up Medicare's files on individual doctors.
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