Ranking Doctors

Some companies and organizations have used lawyer rating systems to rank lawyers. Now, doctors are facing the same scrutiny as some insurance companies have launched rating systems to ‘assist’ consumers in choosing a doctor. However, these rating systems appear to be inherently misleading since they take into account factors such as cost, which are usually not part of the criteria that the average patient uses to pick their physician. Doctors, rightfully so, are enraged that cost is being used to rank their quality when the cost is something that can easily be manipulated with billing codes and slightly different diagnosis classifications.

In Connecticut, a group of doctors have filed a lawsuit claiming that such rankings constitute libel, unfair trade practices, and breach of contract. The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, asks that the rankings programs be terminated.

A similar lawsuit in Washington last year against Regence Blue Shield, which alleged defamation and deceptive business practices, was settled. As part of the settlement, the ranking system was shut down and the insurance company had to be a contribution to the state’s medical association’s education fund. Interestingly, the settlement did not prohibit Regence from having a ranking system but merely made them agree that any future system would have the input of doctors and give them a system in which appeal their ranking.

I have mixed feelings about such ranking systems. While I would find it useful, on both a personal and professional level, to have a way to find out more information about physicians (whether it be as a patient or father or as a personal injury lawyer), such systems to date merely give the doctors an artificial classification such as ‘elicit’ or ‘two stars’. If insurance companies will do this sort of thing, it has got to give the consumer some hard data in order to be useful.