Consumer Reports rates practices on value, chronic care

Consumer Reports has continued its work in the healthcare arena with two new studies assessing what patients in Minnesota get for their money when they go to the doctor's office.

The magazine better known for helping consumers buy cars and toasters, rated the cost and quality of 18 primary care physician groups located in the densely populated Twin Cities area. Using an additional separate but related study, the magazine rated 552 groups statewide on how well they treated diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Consumer Reports in the special report provided readers side-by-side comparisons of how groups fared in each of the studies using a simple four-point scale, with four being the best. For the first study, groups that scored a three or better for both cost and quality were also highlighted as being of "good value," as indicated in a chart included in an editorial in the magazine's nationwide addition.

The big takeaway from the project, despite its limitations in that it evaluated only 18 practices, all from the HealthPartners health plan, is that higher cost does not necessarily mean better quality. While high- and middle-quality groups varied in their scores for cost, for example, groups that scored low for quality were in the middle of the pack for costs.

The review of 552 groups' diabetes and cardiovascular disease, however, did not include cost information, nor was it limited to groups in the HealthPartners network. The results may give Minnesota residents suffering from these conditions a lot to think about, as 66 practices scored the lowest grade of 1 for diabetes care, 50 earned 1's for cardiovascular care and 24 scored at the bottom in both categories, noted an article from Twin Cities Business. At the other end of the spectrum, 37 practices got a high score of 4 in managing both diseases.

"Just as our experience has been with quality reporting, we believe giving the public comparable information on the cost of care across medical groups will encourage those providers to increase the value of care for their patients and help the public make better choices about their care," Jim Chase, president of Minnesota Community Measurement, which worked with Consumer Reports on the report, said in an interview with Health Business Blog.

The results of the report represent the second of three statewide projects. In June, the magazine rated patient experience throughout hundreds of medical practices in Massachusetts and will soon publish details on how well practices deliver preventive care in Wisconsin.

To learn more:
- see Consumer Reports' Special Report for Minnesota Residents (.pdf)
- read the accompanying editorial (.pdf)
- see the story from Twin Cities Business
- here's the post from the Health Business Blog