Physician Scorecards

Nov 20, 2015

Physician scorecards are an increasingly common way for consumers to evaluate the performance of their doctors. While I completely understand the need for unbiased data to help patients make better informed choices – particularly when it comes to selecting a spine surgeon – scorecards often fail to provide consumers with a comprehensive picture.

For one, many scorecards are based solely on Medicare data. That’s problematic because it means the data is limited to a certain percentage of a surgeon’s or doctor’s practice, rather than the full spectrum of patients treated by the physician. I opted out of Medicare in 2013, so my practice won’t even show up on many scorecards.

Using Medicare data may also skew results, since the population covered under Medicare is older and more likely to experience complications or require longer hospitalizations. Finally, since scorecards tend to rely on hospital data, they exclude procedures performed in outpatient settings, which can also impact the results.

Scorecards can be useful if you happen to fall into the very specific category of patients that were evaluated in the data. For others, examining a broader set of metrics and qualifications might prove more useful when choosing a surgeon.

For example, the website suggests seeking out a fellowship-trained surgeon, since the high-level of training they receive tends to result in lower complication rates. The site also suggests opting for a surgeon who specializes in the spine over one who only performs spine surgery occasionally.

Outcomes data can also be very useful and easy to access. Many hospitals and surgical centers produce outcomes reports detailing infection rates, readmission rates and complications for a range of procedures. If you don’t see an outcomes report listed on the website of a surgeon you’re considering, feel free to ask for such information.

Don’t forget that friends and family can also serve as a valuable source of information and are often more than willing to share insight about their experiences with a surgeon. Patient testimonials and reviews may also prove helpful – particularly if the patients have a long history with the surgeon.

In the end, physician scorecards are just one tool of many that patients can use to gauge the performance of a doctor. Exploring a variety of data points might offer a more complete view of a doctor’s practice.