The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) added a new “Physician Compare” feature to the CMS Healthcare Provider Directory on December 30, 2010.  Regulators hope the new feature will help Medicare and non-Medicare patients and their families find and assess the quality of providers.

Required by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“Affordable Care Act”), the Physician Compare tool located here has information about Doctors of Medicine, Osteopathy, Optometry, Podiatric Medicine, and Chiropractic and certain other types of health care professionals participating in the Medicare Program,who routinely care for Medicare beneficiaries.

According to CMS, the Physician Compare Web 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 find out which physicians that see Medicare patients.

In addition to information about the physician’s practice, 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, over 200,000 professionals reported data to CMS through the Physician Quality Reporting System.

According to CMS, it plans a second phase of the Web site which will indicate whether professionals chose to participate in a voluntary effort with the Agency to encourage doctors to prescribe medicines electronically, rather than through traditional paper-based prescription methods later in 2011.

In future years, the Physician Compare Web site will be expanded with information about the quality of care Medicare beneficiaries receive from physicians and the other healthcare professionals profiled on the site.  The expansion will include information on quality of care and patient experience that can help consumers learn more about the care provided by Medicare-participating physicians.  CMS is required by the Affordable Care Act to develop a plan to implement this expansion by 2013.

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