"Through the Patient's Eyes" by Barbra Rabson

This article is more than 13 years old.

We live in an age of online consumer reviews for nearly everything – restaurants, televisions, contractors, CDs - even doctors and hospitals. In fact, if you conduct a Web search of “doctor reviews Boston,” a half dozen options pop up, including ads with headlines like: “Is your doctor good?” and “Avoid these doctors.”

Coming from an organization that was one of the first to measure patients’ experiences with their health care, I can hardly argue against the value of consumers' opinions about their doctors, but we need to be cautious when “ratings” are based on a handful of patients who are either angry enough or happy enough to register their views online, with most doctors receiving no comments at all. This kind of feedback can lead consumers to false conclusions about the care being provided, and it is certainly not useful to physicians who want to find ways to strengthen their relationships with patients.

Visitors to the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners website get a much different view of how patients assess their care. You won't find any comments about individual doctors, but you will find a simple tool that allows you to examine 400 primary care practices in Massachusetts through the eyes of other consumers, based on a comprehensive survey of 51,000 adult patients and 20,000 parents of pediatric patients. New data from the resulting report, Quality Insights: Patient Experiences in Primary Care, was posted today.

Unlike consumer blogs and “physician rating” websites that have been in the news recently, MHQP uses data based on a broad-based survey developed to reliably document patients' actual experiences. When we have positive experiences at our doctors' offices, we are much more likely to develop trusting relationships and follow medical advice.

Last fall, MHQP asked patients statewide more than two dozen questions about their health care experiences during the previous year, such as how well their doctors communicated with them and coordinated their care with specialists. We also asked about their experiences with their doctors' offices, such as whether they could make timely appointments and whether they always received test results. We focus on the key elements of a primary care visit that are important to patients and that also affect the quality of care they receive.

Overall, more than 80 percent of the patients surveyed by MHQP said their primary care physicians always listened carefully and offered clear instructions during office visits. Parents gave their children's pediatricians high scores for reminding them of the need for routine preventive care such as immunizations. At the same time, 30 percent of those surveyed said their doctor's office did not always follow up with test results for themselves or their children.

MHQP works closely with health care providers, consumers, health plans, employers and others to produce objective, reliable data that physicians can use to improve the care they provide, and that consumers can use to make better health care decisions. This isn't to say that there's no place for blogs and other websites that give patients a voice; but it's important to remember that all information is not created equal.

Barbra Rabson, MPH, is executive director of Massachusetts Health Quality Partners.

This program aired on July 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.