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Doctors to be given star ratings on UPMC site

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, 11:54 p.m.
The UPMC building in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
The UPMC building in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Out there in cyberspace, consumers review restaurants, movies, hotels, products and businesses. Now UPMC is jumping into the online ratings sphere by sharing patient ratings and comments about its health care providers.

Starting this week, UPMC is expected to post patient satisfaction surveys and star ratings of physicians and other providers to the Web as a way to assist patients searching for the right doctor.

The ratings of up to five stars are based on more than 200,000 reviews of more than 1,600 providers. Initially, UPMC is expected to post 20,000 comments from email outpatient surveys about doctors, nurse practitioners, midwives and others. To qualify, a provider must have received a minimum of 30 patient surveys over the past 18 months.

It's all in the name of transparency, said Tami Minnier, UPMC's chief quality officer.

“We as an organization firmly believe in the empowerment and engagement of patients and families and the community to understand and evaluate health care,” Minnier told the Tribune-Review. “What better way to help patients and families evaluate part of what UPMC does in care delivery than from sharing the information on our physicians?”

Minnier and Amy Ranier, director of patient experience at UPMC, modeled the rating system — resembling consumer sites such as Amazon — on that of the University of Utah health care system, which was the first in the country to post survey results online.

“They gave us the playbook; they laid the groundwork,” Ranier said, adding that UPMC is Pennsylvania's first health care provider to do so.

Dr. Thomas Miller, chief medical officer at University of Utah Hospital and Clinics, said he received some resistance before the system went online in December 2012, but “for the most part, it's very validating for physicians.

“And the patients love it,” Miller said. “This was never intended to be punitive. It was intended to get ahead of the curve.”

Among the comments UPMC is posting about doctors:

• “I am thankful that my doctor is comfortable serving members of the LGBT community and treats them with respect and dignity.”

• “I don't feel that she really listened to what I had to say. She was to busy typing or cutting me off before I would finish.”

• “Very kind and considerate the kind of doctor you wish there were more of!!”

• “She didn't quite seem confident, which led me to wonder if she knew what she was doing.”

One University of Utah Health Care System surgeon received an overall rating of 4.8 stars and more than 50 patient reviews. Most shared positive thoughts, such as “Very smart and caring!” and “Not only a wonderful provider but a wonderful person.” Some posted negative reviews, though: “Dismissive, abrupt, not personable, consultation felt rushed” and “Seemed aloof.”

Many hospital systems for decades have surveyed patients but used the data internally.

At UPMC, the online ratings are based on six questions that range from a provider's listening ability to performance. Ratings appear on the “Find a Doctor” section of UPMC's website.

Press Ganey, a health care performance consulting company in South Bend, Ind., collects the surveys, mainly sent via email to patients after visits. Press Ganey officials said seven other health systems — including Cleveland Clinic — post doctor ratings online.

Doctors and providers receiving negative comments can appeal to a board of peers, but UPMC intends to publish most comments and ratings, barring profanity and protected information.

Medical rating sites such as Vitals.com exist, but “anybody can go on there and comment,” explained Dr. Joel Nelson, senior medical director of University of Pittsburgh Physicians and chairman of UPMC's Department of Urology. Some of those sites might base ratings on a few comments that could come from people who weren't patients.

“This gives us more legitimacy,” Nelson said. “We're now using a tool that has some standards.”

UPMC's overall physician satisfaction ranking averages a score of 4.8; the lowest grade is 3.7.

Dr. Ashish Jha, a patient safety researcher and professor at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, acknowledged that many doctors aren't thrilled with the idea. His response: Deal with it.

“The question is whether we as a medical community are going to acknowledge that we live in the 21st century or not,” he said. “Every other industry has been upended by growth in data and technology. The challenge for us is to not fight this but make sure it's done in a way that really generates value for patients.”

Minnier said she expects skeptical doctors will warm to the system, especially because most comments are positive.

“In general, you'll see the good and the bad,” she said. “We want to reinforce to our patients that we hear you, and we take your feedback seriously.”

A little extra motivation can't hurt, said Miller, the Utah chief medical officer.

“I think it makes practitioners a little more focused and work a little harder,” he said. “The world is changing; this is what consumers want from us.

“Let's put it all out there — my message to other hospital systems is: Use the power of your patients to speak for you and tell your story.”

Ben Schmitt is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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