State News

Blue Cross wants consumers to rank doctors

Posted December 22, 2008 8:48 a.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2008 12:50 p.m. EST

— Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will use the firm behind the Zagat dining guide to run an online survey rating the consumer experience provided by doctors, North Carolina's largest health insurer said Monday.

The Zagat Health Survey gives patients a way to review and evaluate four non-medical measures of their experience with physicians: trust, communication, availability and office environment. The survey also allows patients to explain more about their experience in a comments section, officials said.

The survey is intended only to reflect customer experience with a physician, not to the quality of care received. The company covers more than 3.7 million people.

"Customer experience information offered by the Zagat Health Survey tool complements the clinical quality, cost and other tools we provide to support consumers' health care decision-making," said Dr. Don Bradley, chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina .

The move is part of a push by insurers and regulators to make the health care system more transparent for consumers. The North Carolina Hospital Association started posting comparisons online last year.

The Zagat consumer survey of doctors was developed for WellPoint Inc., which runs Blue Cross plans in 14 states, and introduced in Connecticut, Ohio and metropolitan Los Angeles, WellPoint spokeswoman Jill Becher said Monday. WellPoint expects to offer the service to other health plans next year, she said.

Critics question whether limited information on doctors' personalities and other non-medical factors will really help consumers. Some wonder whether insurers aiming to control costs will prejudiced the data.

"Consumers have a right to know about their doctors, period," North Carolina Medical Society chief executive Robert Seligson said. But "any time data is available, there's potential for it to be misused or misinterpreted. The information needs to be accurate and reliable."