Putting Health Care Providers on Examining Table

Article excerpt

Perhaps the realization that doctors are mere mortals, combined with access to the World Wide Web, has led 70 percent of Americans to take a more active role in their own health.

No matter the reasons, getting the best care should be a priority. Considering that medical mistakes in hospitals are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, people should have the right to be informed about their caregivers.

An award-winning Web site has helped Americans demystify the effort to get the best health care by providing for the past two years free access ratings of the best and worst health care providers around.

HEALTHGRADES.COM

SITE ADDRESS: www.healthgrades.com

CREATOR: Kerry Hicks, in 1998. HealthGrades.com is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: HGRD) based in Lakewood, Colo.

CREATOR QUOTABLE: "We created HealthGrades.com to help consumers take more control in managing their own and their family's health care, says Mr. Hicks, chairman and chief executive of HealthGrades.com. "It's amazing that people can find background information on cars, furniture and other goods, but before HealthGrades.com, there wasn't a place to go to learn more about your health care provider or services at your local hospital. Our goal is to help people make well-informed decisions to receive the best possible medical care."

WORD FROM THE WEBWISE: Though the site offers a roster of health tools filled with excellent information, its real purpose is to look into the people who look into us.

HealthGrades.com equips visitors with surveys and extensive reviews of health care providers across the nation. One quickly can check local facilities or research those in vacation spots or future hometowns.

The site keeps an eye primarily on 600,000 physicians and 5,000 hospitals. Additionally, reviews of 400 health plans, 17,000 nursing homes, 10,000 mammography clinics, 300 fertility clinics, 60,000 chiropractors, 150,000 dentists, 21,000 assisted-living centers, 75 birth centers, 3,000 hospice facilities, 8,000 acupuncturists and 700 naturopathic physicians are offered.

Easy to understand, the ratings have a report-card feel and are based on standardized criteria using formulas HealthGrades.com has developed to process independent data from more than 75 public and privates sources.

Those sources include the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, state medical boards and health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and publicly available directories and telephone surveys.

The report cards rate facilities and providers, awarding one to five stars reflecting the quality of care. The rating also includes contact information, a map and driving directions.

The site's "Hospital Report Cards" reflect ratings for a wide variety of procedures or diagnoses in such fields as cardiology, neuroscience, orthopedics and pulmonary-respiratory.

Data used for analysis and ratings represent three years (1996 through 1998) of patient discharges, providing a database of sufficient size to "allow statistically valid conclusions" for as many hospital providers as possible. …