Healthgrades Launches New Data-driven Search Platform

OCTOBER 21, 2014
Jared Kaltwasser
Patients who use the Internet to find healthcare providers will now have more data available when making their decisions.

The website Healthgrades.com on Tuesday launched a newly revamped search tool that allows patients to find physicians based on their experience with certain conditions and procedures, as well as patient satisfaction reviews and hospital rankings.

“The Internet has dramatically changed how people access important information and make connections,” said Healthgrades CEO Roger C. Holstein, in a press release. “Just look at the popularity of sites like Zillow and TripAdvisor.com. But unlike shopping for a house or vacation, detailed information about physicians and hospitals has been non-existent until now.”

In a phone interview, Evan Marks, Healthgrades’ chief strategy officer, said the new search function gives patients a much more precise indication of a particular doctor’s track record with specific conditions or treatments.


“One of the most important factors for consumers… with regard to selecting a physician is knowing that that particular physician does more of what it is they need,” he said. “It just makes common sense.”

The website uses de-identified medical insurance claims, which are either public or commercially available, to assemble profiles of physicians in 1,100 practicing specialties with experience in 600 diseases, conditions, or procedures. Those 600 diseases, conditions, and procedures cover about 90% of all inpatient hospital admissions, Healthgrades said. Another 800 diseases, conditions, and procedures will be added to the database next month.

Those data are formulated into an “Experience Match” score, based on the physician’s credentials, track record and experience level with a given procedure or condition.

The site also incorporates Healthgrades’ hospital quality rankings – a measure of clinical outcomes at the hospitals where the physician practices – as well as patient satisfaction rates, based on anonymous reviews by patients. Those patients can rate physicians on factors such as whether they would recommend the physician, staff friendliness, or office cleanliness. Unlike other sites, Healthgrades does not allow users to leave comments.  

Marks said the Experience Match data was also an important factor for the physicians Healthgrades consulted when developing the search tool. Those doctors wanted to be able to refer patients to specialists who had verifiable expertise, rather than simply relying on relationship-based referrals.

“This system, this capability, this technology, upsets a longstanding traditional way that physicians essentially derive their business,” he said.

The company points to an analysis by the research firm Stax, which found 61% of physicians believe more objective data would help them make better referrals.

Marks said the system is likely to help highly specialized physicians, who are sometimes difficult to locate. On the other hand, he said, it could hurt generalists, who may not have high Experience Match scores due to the breadth of their practices.

Marks said the site gives users enough data that they can make informed, personalized decisions. If a given patient wants the best specialist, regardless of the physician’s bedside manner or the efficiency of her office staff, the patient will have the data to make that choice. If bedside manner is a top priority, the reviews and data can help the consumer find the best of both worlds.

Indeed, the Internet and healthcare reform have each given consumers more incentive, and more power, to become active consumers in their own healthcare. The Internet makes available a wide amount of data and opinion – some more reliable than others – and the Affordable Care Act introduced the healthcare marketplace system, which allows participating consumers to compare health plans before choosing their insurance. Among the factors those consumers must consider is whether their plan will cover the physicians and hospitals the consumer wants to utilize.

Still, research suggests consumers have been somewhat slower to adopt the Internet as a tool to find doctors. A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found just one in 5 internet users used the web to find a healthcare practitioner or hospital. Meanwhile, about 8 in 10 internet users used the web to search for other products and services.

Healthgrades, however, notes a Harris Poll which found 90% of consumers said they could make a better choice of physician if they had more information about those physicians.

While some may debate the role sites like Healthgrades ought to play in healthcare decisions, Marks said the new data-driven paradigm isn’t going away.

“This information is available, and we’re making it available to consumers,” he said. “This is an inevitability.”



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