Physician ratings are here to stay

When a health plan decides to rate its physician groups like mid-priced eateries, you know such ratings have become an accepted part of the healthcare landscape. WellPoint's deal with Zagat is just one of a flood of physician ranking and ratings systems which have launched over the last year.

Not only are physicians being ranked by consumers on search engines like Yahoo and Google--which attach consumer reviews to physicians' local business listings--virtually all of the nation's largest health insurers seem to have some sort of ratings scheme underway. In fact, as we reported a few days ago, one Blue plan has created a subsidiary dedicated to collecting such consumer feedback. Then, of course, you have independent sites like RateMDs.com and HealthGrades.com, which give consumers a chance to comment on how they feel physicians perform. Like it or lump it, physicians are going to get an earful from patients over coming years. It's a brutal awakening for a profession which has never had to meet retail standards in the past.

Not surprisingly, such ratings have generated some degree of controversy. Doctors have pushed back, hard, when health plans issue doctor rankings that seem to be based largely on whose fees are lowest. In New York state, officials were concerned enough about the potential for abuse that they demanded several health plans agree to tough standards for ratings programs. Meanwhile, New York legislators are filing a bill which would make these standards a matter of law. Next year, expect the battle over who gets to rate physicians--and how--to get much hotter.

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