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Published April 25, 2012, 11:30 PM

North Dakota consumers will soon be able to rate, compare doctors

Blue Cross Blue Shield rolls out program
FARGO – North Dakota patients soon will be able to rate their physicians, comment on their care and check to see how doctors perform based on certain medical benchmarks.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – North Dakota patients soon will be able to rate their physicians, comment on their care and check to see how doctors perform based on certain medical benchmarks.

Those are among a slate of initiatives being rolled out nationally by Blue Cross Blue Shield, all with the aim of giving health consumers more information to help guide their members’ choices.

Three programs will launch July 1. One involves physician quality measurement, another recognizes physicians for taking part in a quality initiative called MediQHome and another allows patient review of physicians.

Under physician quality measurement, patients will have access to certain quality benchmark indicators involving cancer screening (mammography, cervical and colorectal), diabetes (test of blood sugar) and heart disease (cholesterol).

Information tracking the indicators has long been available to Blue Cross Blue Shield, but some of it now will be available to consumers in a user-friendly form that will allow national comparisons for local providers against their peers.

“It’s just never really been transparent for consumers,” said Jami Berger, director of quality management for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, the state’s largest health care insurer.

In order to be usable for consumers, the information will be streamlined. Details about how to make the information accessible still are being worked out, said Steve Lindemann, the North Dakota Blues’ director of provider networks and performance.

“We don’t want to give them a fire hose and start drinking,” he said.

The idea is that a doctor’s performance on certain key benchmark indicators, compared to peer physicians, provides a guide that hints at the doctor’s overall performance, Berger said.

“It’s not going to give you bedside manner, but it’s a beginning,” she said.

The measurement criteria are available under the North Dakota Blues’ MediQHome quality program, under which participating providers agree to certain care protocols and patient tracking.

The Blues’ physician recognition program is complementary to the physician quality measurement initiative. Physicians who participate in the MediQHome program – more than 70 percent of North Dakota doctors – will receive the designation.

Members’ online patient reviews of doctors nationally will be allowed after a claim is paid, usually a month or so, intended as a “cooling off period,” and will be moderated by a third party before posting, Berger said.

Inflammatory remarks will not be allowed, and complaints that raise concerns about quality can be looked into, she said.

The transparency programs are part of a collaborative effort with providers to make health care and health insurance premiums more affordable.

Physicians and clinics throughout North Dakota were informed of the initiative in letters sent this week.

Kevin Pitzer, a senior vice president of Essentia Health and chief administrator of its west region, said quality measures by insurers and accrediting bodies now have become widely implemented in health care.

“It’s a reality we’ve dealt with and we think it’s a positive for patients,” he said. “Really that’s a progression of something we support as an organization.”

The performance benchmarks are from a recognized service that is a standard in health care, he said.

The initiative that has providers perhaps the most “unsettled,” Pitzer said, is the one allowing patients to make anonymous comments about physicians. He noted, however, that online sites allowing patients to rate and comment about physicians are common.

Patients who look for unstructured comments about doctors should combine that with the standardized peer measures for a more holistic picture, Pitzer said.

Dr. Bruce Pitts, chief medical officer of Sanford Health, released a statement about the Blues’ new transparency initiatives.

“At Sanford, we are mindful of the impact we make on the lives of patients and their families every day,” he said. “Blue Cross Blue Shield’s website joins the growing number of resources available to patients for information about health care providers. Transparency and feedback make us stronger.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522