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Published: Friday, 12/26/2008

Rating doctors

CHOOSING a personal physician has been made a little bit easier for some people, thanks to a partnership between Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Zagat Survey, the well-known guide to restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues.

Picking a doctor is one of the most difficult tasks anyone can face. In addition to wanting someone who s highly skilled, most people want a physician who makes them feel comfortable, someone they can talk to, and is available when they re needed. The doctor-patient relationship is, after all, the most intimate professional relationship most people will have.

Patients also are attracted to or put off by the office environment as well as the nurses and other staff with whom they interact. And, just to make finding the right match even more difficult, what may be a good experience for one person may be bad for another, rendering advice from family or friends less helpful.

While information about doctors as about everything else one can possibly imagine is readily available on the Internet, the reliability of that information is sometimes impossible to gauge, making it difficult for prospective patients to know where to turn for the straight dope.

Zagat has stepped into that breach, at least for Blue Cross members. For about a year, the respected restaurant reviewer has been collecting and compiling information about doctors for WellPoint, which runs Blue Cross plans in more than a dozen states, including Ohio and Indiana. The Zagat rating system uses a 30-point scale to grade network physicians on trust, communication, availability, and office environment.

Doctors ratings, as well as patient comments and the percentage of respondents who recommend that doctor, are available to members through their health plan s Web site.

Of course, no rating system is perfect. The Zagat survey, unfortunately, does not collect information about quality of care, perhaps the most important consideration for people in search of a doctor. In fairness, however, quality of care may be an even more subjective category than the experiences Zagat is providing data on.

Even so, the doctor ratings, collected by an independent, experienced, and highly respected survey expert, are a useful tool for Blue Cross members. Indeed, anything that helps patients narrow the field of available physicians through increased information and transparency is a good thing, and other insurers in Ohio and elsewhere should consider following Blue Cross lead.

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