WellPoint, the nation’s largest health benefits company, and Zagat Survey, the consumer-generated rating company, announced Monday the upcoming launch of a new online survey tool that will allow consumers to share their physician experiences with others. WellPoint will offer the online tool (using the Zagat approach) to select members in its Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield licensed subsidiaries in January 2008.
Wellpoint members will be able to complete an online survey rating physicians on Zagat’s 30-point scale in four categories: trust, communication, availability and office environment. In addition, the survey will also feature a comments section, allowing members to share comments to expand on their ratings. The survey and results will be available free of charge to members via their health plans’ web sites. Zagat is widely known for its voluntary surveys from thousands of consumers who rate restaurants, hotels and other attractions. Zagat ratings are given a lot of credence by the general public.
For each network physician, the online entry will display contact information, ratings on a 30-point scale for each of the four categories, and the percentage of members who recommend that physician. The most recent comments will be displayed first, and members will have the option to rate the usefulness of comments, as well as report suspicious comments. These categories are solely designed to reflect a consumer’s experience with a physician — not to reflect the quality of care they received.
The Takeaway: Consumer ratings of physicians are here and growing. Consumers are actively using the web to seek out and share opinions and ratings of all kinds of businesses, so healthcare is no different. Couple this with the push for “transparency” in the mysterious world of healthcare pricing, and this is going to be the result. These surveys have their limitations, and since voting is voluntary, may reflect the loyalty and intensity of opinions rather than the cross section of the opinions of your patients. Nevertheless, pay attention to it. Part of your ability to care for patients is your ability to instill trust — trust that leads to compliance, compliance that leads to better outcomes.
Take your own survey — have an outside agency do the survey for you, and pay attention to the findings. If patients are lukewarm about you, then there is something about the atmosphere in your practice. It can be things that you don’t even notice – overly busy, noisy, everyone moving quickly. The interaction with staff could be overly “professional” — i.e., detached, and coming across as uncaring. Physicians may come across as being rushed — speaking rapidly, not pausing to let patients think for a moment, and not waiting.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has been working on developing a series of survey tools for healthcare. You can download and use the “Clinician & Group Survey and Reporting Kit 2007.” You can adapt it, of course, and you will need help in compiling and analyzing the results. At a minimum, the value is seeing the kinds of specific questions that are being asked of patients. These are your guide to assessing your own practice even before you start conducting patient surveys.
I’ll keep you apprised as events develop. The job is the hard one: taking an honest look at your own practice and yourself.