AMA pushes for more accurate Medicare Physician Compare
■ Glitches were found in the Medicare doctor directory after tests on the latest version of the website.
By Charles Fiegl — Posted Aug. 5, 2013
Washington After recent upgrades to the Medicare Physician Compare website, the American Medical Association has identified additional problems that it says should be addressed before the directory starts including additional information on physician performance.
A new version of the Web directory with enhanced search functions and information inputs designed to improve accuracy was launched on June 27. The AMA and individual physicians have reviewed the new search capabilities and provided feedback to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which was required by law to create the site and post information about participating doctors. CMS has announced plans to include more information that details physician performance on quality measures in the near future.
“As mentioned in previous comments to CMS, the Physician Compare website search function and underlying demographics of the data must be accurate before the agency adds any additional performance information,” the AMA wrote in a July 17 letter to CMS. “The AMA supports this use of physician data when it is used in conjunction with program[s] designed to improve or maintain the quality of, and access to, medical care for all patients, and is used to provide accurate physician performance assessments.”
The AMA is urging CMS to ensure the accuracy of physician information and the search functionality on the website before it moves forward. The Association detailed a number of issues that representatives from the physician community found after the June relaunch.
What went wrong
For example, a patient might search Physician Compare for a plastic surgeon within the Tampa, Fla., area bounded by the ZIP code 33602. The first suggestion that appears is “Family Practice, General Practice, Geriatric Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Primary Care Physicians in Your Area.” The most appropriate and likely specialty sought by the patient — plastic and reconstructive surgery — appears last, the AMA noted.
Another new site function lets patients search for a doctor by the body part that needs attention, but some search results appear incomplete. For instance, typing “head” does not list suggestions related to psychiatry. The AMA proposed adding “brain” to the body part list so psychiatry could be listed as a possible specialty for the patient.
Furthermore, the site uses CMS specialty categories instead of terms preferred by physicians. The AMA urged the agency to work with state and national specialty societies to address how it lists physician specialties by body part and disease.
“Doing so will help ensure that patients along with their caregivers are accessing the most appropriate information for their health care decision-making,” the letter stated.
On July 8, CMS described plans to develop the website further. In 2014, the agency proposes to publish all physician quality reporting system measures turned in by medical practices with a Web interface. Data would include performance rates on measures with a minimum sample of 20 patients that are deemed to be statistically valid. Groups would have 30 days to review data before they are posted online.
In addition, CMS intends to post PQRS information from physician groups with 100 or more doctors and other health professionals that used the Web interface reporting option in 2013.
The type and amount of information being posted appears to be fine, but organized medicine will continue to watch how data are used and to provide feedback to CMS, said Brian Whitman, the American College of Cardiology’s associate director of regulatory affairs. The ACC supports publicizing quality data at the group level, but it would be concerned if information is reported at the individual level because of the small sample size associated with reported data, he said.