Which Doctors, Facilities Make the Grade?

HealthGrades Inc.

http:// www.healthgrades.com

Background: HealthGrades is a Lakewood, Colo.-based company that does quality ratings of more than 10,000 hospitals and other health-care facilities, based on Medicare data and information from state governments. The site includes information on doctors, as well as summaries of nursing homes and providers of nontraditional medicine, such as chiropractors and acupuncturists.

What Works: HealthGrades serves well as a guide to choosing a hospital. For free, you can get a one-(worst) to five-star (best) rating of how well hospitals in your area perform on various measures. HealthGrades explains its ratings system as well, including how the site takes into account a facility's size and the severity of cases it handles. These star grades aren't the final word on a hospital or home health agency; facilities may improve on their score, and they may be very strong in one area and weaker in another.

What Doesn't: HealthGrades' information on doctors is spotty. Although the site bills itself as the "healthcare quality experts," it doesn't include medical board disciplinary actions, or even alert visitors when a doctor has marks on his or her record. And for some doctors, the profile includes little more than a name and address. As thorough as the site is at evaluating hospitals and other facilities, many consumers are still most interested in learning about their doctor, and they want more than a directory. HealthGrades could also do a better job of explaining how doctors are disciplined, and why. For that information, you're much better off at California's medical board, http://www.medbd.ca.gov.


http:// www.searchpointe.com

Background: SearchPointe is the medical arm of ChoicePoint Inc., a publicly traded consulting firm that provides background checks for insurance companies and other clients, including credit checks and a search of other public records. Launched in 1999, the health site gathers data from the American Medical Assn., the Drug Enforcement Administration and 67 state medical and osteopathic boards, among other sources.

What Works: SearchPointe's profiles are complete and inclusive. They detail not only health professionals' education and residency experience but also license status, certification exam results and disciplinary actions. The site also has background on chiropractors and osteopaths. These profiles are free, and SearchPointe flags the practitioners who have some disciplinary actions against them. A full report costs $9.95. The Sample Case page provides a useful discussion of the terminology of medical boards, from license suspension to probation and revocation.

What Doesn't: The site is not entirely up to date. SearchPointe covers actions taken by the Medical Board of California up to February 2001, but it doesn't include most actions recorded since then. According to the medical board's Web page (http://www.medbd.ca.gov), for instance, there are about 20 physicians currently licensed who received some official warning or action in the months of March, April and May 2001. But by late June, only a few of those show up on SearchPointe's doctor search pages. Also, the site doesn't offer a full discussion of the reasons for disciplinary actions, or penalties imposed. If a practitioner is reprimanded for incompetence, for example, what does this mean--and what's the penalty? Some examples would be helpful. It can be difficult to interpret raw background data without some context.

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