CMS Launches Physician Compare Website
As of December 30, 2010, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) enhanced their older “Healthcare Provider Directory” tool, which helped beneficiaries research and compare physicians enrolled in the program, by introducing an expanded and updated “Physician Compare” to the public. The driving force behind this new database is the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health reform law that has the primary goal of promoting healthcare transparency. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 18120.
Physician Compare operates as a directory that includes information regarding nearly every type of medical professional, including doctors of medicine, osteopathy, optometry, podiatry, and chiropractic, as well as non-physician healthcare professionals, such as nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, registered dietitians, physical therapists, physicians’ assistants, and occupational therapists. By using the Physician Compare website, a beneficiary can access information regarding the location of the practitioner, his/her affiliation or practice group, where he/she was educated and his/her year of graduation, whether he/she speaks a foreign language, and whether the practice reported certain quality measure data to CMS through the Physician Quality Reporting System, which is presently a voluntary reporting program through which CMS pays incentives for providers who meet various quality marks.
At this time, the database does not provide specific quality measure information; it merely indicates whether such information was reported. Nevertheless, future plans for Physician Compare do include the accessibility of more detailed information regarding the patient experience and the specific quality of care that beneficiaries receive from professionals. In fact, according to the Affordable Care Act, CMS must implement a physician performance information feature by 2013, relying on 2012 quality reporting data. Despite the wealth of information that is currently accessible through the Physician Compare database, this is only the first phase of the directory; it is reported that subsequent phases will allow access to even more information. For instance, the proposed next phase of Physician Compare, which is planned to be accessible later in 2011, will include a feature that indicates whether the queried professionals have chosen to participate in a voluntary effort with CMS to encourage doctors to prescribe medicines electronically.
It is worth noting that there is no requirement that a beneficiary formally log into the Physician Compare website. Accordingly, while the tool is meant to be of use to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, it certainly could prove valuable to all patients wanting to locate healthcare professionals in their communities; assuming, of course, they are aware of its existence. Finally, while healthcare providers have generally supported the use of performance metrics, the practitioners who have expressed concern hope that the website will execute responsible reporting. Check out Physician Compare at: www.medicare.gov/find-a-doctor or click on the Compare tab at www.healthcare.gov.