Consumer experience provides worthwhile quality data


Insurers are no longer shy about letting members comment on care experiences

A FEW YEARS AGO, the idea that patients could anonymously post physician ratings on the internet had the medical community in an uproar. That's beginning to change now as stakeholders recognize consumers' growing interest in having more provider data in order to make smart decisions.

The threats "made insurers a little shy about getting involved in the first generation of these rating sites," says Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, a healthcare economist and management consultant with THINK-Health.

In October 2006, Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield introduced an online rating tool for its members in Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Washington. So far 46,000 members have posted ratings. Ralph Prows, MD, senior medical director for Regence, admits his plan ruffled a few feathers when it added a nonrestrictive member comment tool online.

"It was controversial," he says. "We went out to talk to providers, and there was great resistance. No one cares more about reputation than physicians. They felt quite vulnerable to the odd comment that someone might make."

WellPoint jumped in the game in January 2008 when it partnered with the well-known restaurant- and travel-ratings brand Zagat. Plan members in WellPoint's 10 largest markets currently have access to the service, which will be available to all 34 million WellPoint members by year's end, according to Eric Fennel, WellPoint's staff vice president of innovation. In addition, WellPoint has independently provided the service to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and hopes to market to other Blues in the future.

Last July Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer-generated ratings group, in collaboration with Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, CIGNA, and Blues plans in Tennessee and Kansas City, introduced a pilot in three major cities. The survey, based on one developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, rates hundreds of doctors and relies on feedback from 87,000 consumers. Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers' Checkbook says his group's rigorous survey methodology is a selling point with science-minded physicians.

Consumers' Checkbook ratings apply scientific methodology and draw results from a large sample. The average physician rating is an aggregate of 45 patients' responses.

A service created by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, called, takes a broader, system approach. TheHealthScoop eschews numerical ratings and invites all healthcare consumers-not just plan members-to share their healthcare experiences as part of a free-form dialogue. The site currently contains some 5,000 anecdotes from consumers in all 50 states.

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