Members of select Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plans will have a new online tool that could revolutionize the way people choose their health care providers this year.
The well-known Zagat Survey Company has teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield parent company WellPoint to provide patients with an online tool that allows them to rate physicians and share their experiences with one another.
“Consumers want to know what other people think, and they want that information in terms that are understandable and familiar,” said Jill Becher, spokesperson for Indianapolis-based WellPoint. “The first thing people do when looking for a new doctor is ask for a recommendation from family and friends. This tool fills an unmet need for peer-to-peer information sharing.”
The online tool was launched in January and is currently available to Blue Cross and Blue Shield members in metropolitan Los Angeles, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Dayton, Ohio. The tool uses Zagat’s trademark 30-point scale.
“WellPoint members will rate physicians based on four separate qualities: Trust, communication, availability, and office environment,” explained Betsy Haworth, director of communications at New York City-based Zagat.
“The site will also feature a comments section, allowing members to add comments if they choose,” Haworth continued. “WellPoint will only include data that members have the ability to rate. Members will not rate the technical skills of the physician.”
“Any time you can give consumers more information about the physicians and hospitals they are choosing, it can only help,” said Jason Sanford, director of communications at the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, an independent, statewide center that advises state policymakers on health issues.
“There’s been real resistance to putting out much of the ratings info that is collected on physicians, even though consumers want it,” Sanford added. “Of course, consumers have to take anything they read on [a public ratings scale] with a grain of salt, but at least the information is out there and lets the people decide.”
There are no limits to a member’s access to the information in the WellPoint ratings program. Those with applicable heath plans will have access to the tool on the company’s Web site and can view all the ratings and provide ratings free of charge.
For fairness, ratings on a physician will not appear until 10 surveys have been collected.
Zagat executives decided to accept WellPoint’s proposal because they believe it can help transform health care by filling a significant void in the marketplace.
“Recent consumer research indicates that the experience other patients have with their doctors is an important factor in making health care decisions,” Haworth pointed out. “By providing a resource for members to share their own provider experiences, they ultimately will assist other consumers who are trying to make informed decisions regarding their health care needs.”
According to Sanford, the biggest gripe patients have about the U.S. health care system is that they can’t find good information on physicians or hospitals. He believes systems such as the one provided by WellPoint will help bridge this gap in customer satisfaction.
“Everyone says that in order to make the health care system better in America, you have to make it more of a marketplace,” said Sanford. “But this is a marketplace where the people don’t have a lot of information. So I think any time that you can increase the amount of information people have access to, like ratings, it can only help the system in the long run.”
Becher said WellPoint will progressively make the tool available to all of its members over the next few years.
Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.