By MICHAEL L. MILLENSON
Say you want to know which baseball players provide the most value for the big dollars they’re being paid. A Google search quickly yields analytics. But suppose your primary care physician just diagnosed you with cancer. What will a search for a “high value” cancer doctor tell you?
Public concern over bloated and unintelligible medical bills has prompted pushback ranging from an exposé by a satirical TV show to a government edict that hospitals list their prices online. But despite widespread agreement about the importance of high-value care, information about the clinical outcomes of individual physicians, which can put cost into perspective, is scarce. Even when information about quality of care is available, it’s often unreliable, outdated, or limited in scope.
For those who are sick and scared, posting health care price tags isn’t good enough. The glaring information gap about the quality of care must be eliminated.
“When people are comparison shopping, knowing the price of something is not enough,” notes Eric Schneider, a primary care physician and senior vice president of policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund. “People want to know the quality of the goods and services they’re buying.”
While Medicare officials play up the need for transparency about prices, the information on Medicare’s Physician Compare website contains little more than professional credentials. Commercial websites have similar flaws, as does the information coming from state governments and nonprofit organizations.
Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to link the names of individual surgeons with hard data on their patients’ quality of care is the Surgeon Scorecard website hosted by the investigative journalism group ProPublica. Working with academic partners and using Medicare data available to researchers, ProPublica has published surgeon-specific complication rates for eight elective procedures, adjusted for how sick patients were to begin with. Unfortunately, the Surgeon Scorecard hasn’t been updated since 2015, although a new version is in the works.
ProPublica also showed how