Patient Criteria for Good Docs Fall Short, Study Says

By Conan Milner
Conan Milner
Conan Milner
Conan Milner is a health reporter for the Epoch Times. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.
September 14, 2010 Updated: September 14, 2010

[xtypo_dropcap]F[/xtypo_dropcap]inding the right doctor can be difficult—especially if you don’t know what to look for. Researchers have determined that the common criteria patients use in choosing a physician rarely identify doctors who consistently provide guideline-based care. Their findings appear in the Sept. 13 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, examined 10,000 Massachusetts physicians and the care they provided to more than 1.3 million adults during 2004 and 2005.

This information was compared with characteristics that patients often associate with better quality medical care, including being board certified, being female, and graduating from a domestic medical school.

Since the general public is not likely to find detailed information about physician performance, patients are often encouraged to select physicians based on characteristics that are most accessible, such as board certification status, history of education, and paid malpractice claims.

While the data on these criteria may be readily available, the study found it does not offer enough insight into identifying a doctor who provides guideline-based care.

Researchers say that these characteristics make minimal difference in what they consider a quality physician, and found that none offered consumers meaningful guidance in determining the quality of care offered.

“We found that the types of information widely available to patients for choosing a physician do not predict whether that physician will deliver evidence-based care,” said Rachel Reid, the study's lead author and a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a statement. “These findings underscore the need for better physician performance data to help consumers choose their doctors.”

Researchers determined quality solely on a doctor’s ability to provide guideline-based care. For example, the National Institutes of Health say a person with asthma should develop a written asthma management plan, in partnership with his or her doctor. Such a plan is associated with better asthma control. An asthmatic patient should be evaluated by his doctor every six months. Yet many doctors do not follow these recommendations.

With information from insurance claims, researchers rated doctors who consistently followed guideline-based treatments as physicians of higher quality. Doctors who employed other methods were rated lower.

The study found that board certification offered the most insight into identifying top doctors. Board certification was also associated with higher performance scores for both acute and preventive care.

Researchers were shocked that the study found no consistent association between the number of malpractice payments or disciplinary actions against physicians and the quality of care they provide. Similarly, researchers also did not find any association between doctors’ years of experience and consistency of guideline-based care.

Conan Milner
Conan Milner is a health reporter for the Epoch Times. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.