CMS launches first phase of Physician Compare site

By Molly Merrill
11:59 AM

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday improvements to its Physician Directory tool with the launch of the first phase of its Physician Compare website, which provides consumers with more information about providers including data about quality of care.
The Physician Compare website was required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and contains information about physicians enrolled in the Medicare program, including doctors of medicine, osteopathy, optometry, podiatric medicine, and chiropractic. The site also contains information about other types of health professionals who routinely care for Medicare beneficiaries, including nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, registered dietitians, physical therapists, physician assistants and occupational therapists.

"The new Physician Compare tool begins to fill an important gap in our online tools by providing more information about physicians and other healthcare workers," said Donald Berwick, MD, CMS administrator.  "This helps to pave the way for consumers to have similar information about their physicians as they have for nursing homes, home health agencies and health and drug plans."

The site is designed to be consumer friendly and help all patients – whether on Medicare or not – locate health professionals in their communities. The information on the site includes contact and address information for offices, the professional's medical specialty, where the professional completed his or her degree as well as residency or other clinical training, whether the professional speaks a foreign language, and the professional's gender.  The tool can also help Medicare beneficiaries identify which physicians participate in the Medicare program.
Physician Compare also shows consumers whether the practice reported certain data to CMS through the Physician Quality Reporting System, formerly known as the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI). Currently, the PQRI reporting system is a voluntary reporting program that rewards physicians and other eligible healthcare professionals for reporting data on quality measures related to services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries. These quality measures are based on the best available medical evidence and designed to help professionals improve care for patients. In 2009, more than 200,000 professionals reported data to CMS through the Physician Quality Reporting System.

Officials say later in 2011 CMS plans a second phase of the website which will indicate whether professionals chose to participate in a voluntary effort with the agency to encourage doctors to prescribe medicines electronically.

Future plans for the site include expanding information about the quality of care Medicare beneficiaries receive from physicians and the other healthcare professionals profiled on the site.  This will include information on quality of care and patient experience that can help consumers learn more about the care provided by Medicare-participating physicians. Under the Affordable Care Act CMS must develop a plan to implement this expansion by 2013.

 "Today's release of Physician Compare moves us closer towards CMS' goal to improve the quality of healthcare for people with Medicare in all the places where they receive care, including the doctor's office," said Berwick. "By using a considered, step-wise approach to spotlighting quality of care, we can create a tool that will help doctors and patients for decades to come."

CMS is working closely with healthcare stakeholders as it develops its future plans for the Physician Compare website, and will continue to do so through public meetings and forums, as well as through the regular processes to update the Physician Fee Schedule, said officials.

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