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Consumer Reports Rates Doctors In Mass.

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BOSTON (AP) — Consumer Reports, best known for rating the nuts and bolts of cars, household appliances and other electronics, is getting into the business of rating primary care doctors.

The magazine is getting ready to mail out ratings for nearly 500 adult, family and pediatric physician practices in Massachusetts, the first step in a multistate project to evaluate doctors the way it has rated consumer products for decades.

The ratings were drawn from patient surveys by Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, a coalition of physicians, hospitals and health plans that has been publishing data on physician performance on its website since 2006.

Consumer Reports, based in Yonkers, N.Y., just north of New York City, put the data into the format it uses in its magazine to rate practices on how well doctors know their patients, communicate with them and coordinate their medical care. The practices also are evaluated on patients’ experiences with the offices’ staffs.

The ratings are included in a 25-page insert to be mailed Thursday to the magazine’s 120,000 subscribers in Massachusetts.

Read: The Full Report (.pdf)

The health care coalition’s executive director, Barbra Rabson, said the goal is to “equip both patients and physicians with information they can use to improve their care.”

“It’s not only to have a wider reach,” she said, “it’s also to inform consumers in a more user-friendly way about what this is and how they can use it.”

This isn’t Consumer Reports’ first foray into medical ratings.

The magazine currently rates more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals and 300 heart surgeon groups and does Best Buy Drugs ratings on prescription medications for more than 35 medical conditions.

It is, however, the first time Consumer Reports has rated primary care physician practices.

The magazine plans to mail out similar ratings for physician practices in Minnesota and Wisconsin later this year and early next year.

With the proliferation of websites where patients can post reviews of doctors, including Angie’s List and RateMDs.com, Consumer Reports knows it will have some tough competition.

The director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, Dr. John Santa, said that while most of those websites have random patient reviews, the Consumer Reports ratings were compiled through more than 64,000 patient surveys collected by Massachusetts Health Quality Partners.

Santa said the physician practice ratings look just like the ratings for products Consumer Reports has reviewed since 1936.

“When our subscribers open our ratings, they know red is good, and the more red there is, the better whoever is being rated has done,” he said. “And they know that black is not a good rating, and they can tell just from the page what kind of circumstances they’ll be looking at.”

Boston University health care marketing professor Roberta Clarke said Consumer Reports’ easy-to-read format could help patients who are looking for new doctors but probably won’t prompt satisfied patients to switch doctors.

“People are going to stay with their own physician if they’re happy. They are not going to see these ratings and switch,” she said. “But if they are looking for a new practice, for people moving into the state, students who are graduating and working in the state, they may be more likely to look at these Consumer Reports ratings.”

Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, an association for physicians and medical students, said the patient reports used in the ratings could be valuable as one piece of information to use in selecting a physician, but he said there are many other things to consider, including recommendations from family and friends, treatment outcomes, doctor safety and a doctor’s access to particular hospitals.

“It might be helpful to scan what other people have thought about this physician, but it’s a very personal thing,” he said. “It’s not like you’re rating a motor vehicle. With Consumer Reports, I’ve gone to it many times to buy things — they’ve got great technical expertise — but it’s a little bit harder to analyze human interaction.”

Aghababian said he thinks, like Consumer Reports does, that the ratings could be helpful to physicians.

“If we can glean information from data like this, along with all the new data that’s flowing from medical research, if that will lead to better patient care, then we should take advantage of the information,” he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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