Press Release

Embargoed Until Contact

December 11, 2014

Sue Ducat
Director of Communications
(301) 841-9962


Physician Compare


A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at the evolution and current development plans for Physician Compare, a website mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A simple version of the site first launched in 2010. Since then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has slowly been adding limited sets of data listing the various physician groups participating in a number of Medicare quality improvement initiatives. In 2015 the site will expand to include more recent and extensive information about physician performance and quality of care, in a format that's similar to the other ACA-generated websites--Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare, and Dialysis Facility Compare. These sites, which encompass tens of thousands of facilities nationwide, are credited with advancing accountability and motivating improvements in care and quality. They are also faulted as poorly organized and inadequately audited when the data are submitted by facilities. Meanwhile, beyond CMS, the number of other physician rating sites online has exploded. Public interest and engagement has grown as well: According to a 2012 survey, conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one in four Americans had consulted a rating site when selecting a primary care physician that year.


Topics covered in this brief include:


      • What's the background and the law? The brief describes recent proliferation of public reporting of physician performance "report cards." According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's directory, there are now some fifty efforts underway to assess and report on physician performance. The brief also explains the provision of the ACA requiring CMS to develop a plan by 2013 to "make publicly available...information on physician performance that provides comparable information on quality and patient experience measures," and outlines CMS's step-by-step approach in developing Physician Compare, gradually adding measures for different practices and specialties.

      • What's the debate? As the brief states, CMS's main challenge, beyond the logistical challenges of aggregating billions of bits of data, is gaining the trust of physicians and their trade groups, who are arguing that much physician performance measurement is still not "scientifically ready for prime time" and should not be used prematurely. The criticism from physician accountability and quality improvement advocates is that the measurements focus too much on processes of care and not enough on patient outcomes. The brief examines the elements of these debates, as well as CMS's struggle to be a fair arbiter as it moves to honor the spirit and the letter of the law.

      • What's next? As consumer-backed review sites continue to dominate the market, research has shown that the public's trust in the data and information presented on many federal government websites is fairly high. Experts expect that consumers will accept the data on Physician Compare, although there is a risk that doctors could undermine that trust if they speak ill of the website to their patients. At the moment, Physician Compare remains a work in progress.
About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically and health policy briefs published twice monthly at Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download weekly Narrative Matters podcasts on iTunes.