Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Does Your Doc Make the Grade?

I have a feeling that, much as “Consumer Driven Health Care” was the buzzword (or is that buzzwords?) of the first half of this decade, “transparency” may turn out to be the buzzword of the latter half.
Briefly, “transparency” (in the context of health care) means that true costs and service satisfaction levels are disclosed before treatment is delievered. In other words, a patient is not only entitled to know how much a given procedure will cost (or at least his share of that total), he is also entitled to know how well the service provider has previously performed.
Unfortunately, such information has been difficult – if not impossible – to obtain. We’ve explored the first tentative steps toward this transparency; now a new study suggests that "quality evaluators can get reasonably reliable physician quality data from a collection of 45 completed patient satisfaction survey questionnaires and very reliable quality data from a collection of about 300 patient questionnaires." Dana Gelb Safran, who conducted the study, is a researcher affiliated with Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston.
The study deals only with patient satisfaction, so it’s still not the Holy Grail; but researchers did find “highly reliable and stable information about both the quality of doctor-patient interactions and about the functioning of the doctor's office.
The point is that, with a few simple tools such as this, the face of the health care delivery system is beginning to change. What’s most intriguing to me is that the speed of change is beginning to pick up. Some carriers have begun putting medical research tools on their websites in order to encourage their insureds to take a more proactive role. What’s missing, I think, is a more forceful message from the health care industry encouraging its customers (i.e. patients) to use these tools.
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