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Individuals will use Web-based data about physician characteristics and performance to choose a doctor

Patients rarely use much of the care performance data available to them. One reason is that consumers are most interested in physician-level information rather than quality data on the hospitals, health plans, and medical groups that are typically profiled. When patients seeking a new primary care physician (PCP) were invited to view Web-based information to inform their choice, only 17 percent visited the Web site. However, according to a new study, those who did visit the Web site used the information to inform their choice of a PCP.

The researchers invited adult patients seeking a new PCP at 2 California medical groups to view Web-based information on 14 adult PCPS in the medical groups. The Web site provided physician credentials (such as years in practice, medical school, specialty certification, and hospital affiliations); personal characteristics (for example, age, gender, ethnicity, and languages spoken); office location and hours; and patient experience scores based on a survey of five summary measures of physicians (interpersonal quality, appointment access, care coordination, health promotion, and patients' willingness to recommend the physician).

Patients cited patient experience scores for individual physicians as the factor most often influencing physician choice (51 percent). Among these measures, patients' highest priorities were a physician's interpersonal quality (37 percent) and patient recommendations of the PCP (41 percent). Patients who cited these priorities had nearly 10 times the likelihood of choosing a highly scored physician (well aligned with their priorities) after viewing the Web site data than they did by chance. Targeting patients known to be making a health care decision appears to promote the use of performance data, conclude the researchers.

The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00060).

See "Providing patients Web-based data to inform physician choice: If you build it, will they come?" by Gary Fanjiang, M.D., M.B.A., Ted von Glahn, Hong Chang, Ph.D., and others, in the October 2007 Journal of General Internal Medicine 22(10), pp. 463-366.

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