As out-of-pocket costs for health care rise, consumers are motivated to manage their own care and insurers are providing them tools to make the job easier. The latest innovation, which is available exclusively to WellPoint and North Carolina Blues plan members, is a consumer rating system from Zagat that helps people shop for doctors.

This interesting new development was recently the subject of a detailed intelligence briefing in April 6, 2009 issue of The Dark Report. The Zagat Health Survey is designed to be both doctor friendly and easy for patients to use. It does not address physician quality. Rather, it offers a snapshot of individual physicians-based on criteria that impact the consumer experience. Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will eventually need to respond to this trend. That’s because, as it becomes more common for consumers to rate providers, health plans will begin asking their beneficiaries to rate the service they received from medical laboratory test providers.

Patients are asked to rate a physician on four criteria, using a scale of 0 to 3, with 3 being excellent. Zagat then averages consumer scores for a physician and multiplies by 10 to create the familiar Zagat 0-30 number ratings. Reviewers are also asked if they would recommend the doctor to other plan members.

The four criteria include:

  • Trust-Is the patient confident in the physician’s approach, integrity and recommendations?
  • Communication-What about the physician’s bedside manner, responsiveness and rapport?
  • Availability-Was it easy to make an appointment? Was the patient kept waiting for hours?
  • Office Environment-What is the condition of the doctor’s reception area? Are staff members in the office helpful and pleasant?

Consumers may only submit one submission per physician. Consumers also are invited to write comments about their experience and/or explain their physician rating. Each review is screened and inappropriate comments are removed.

In developing the survey, the Zagat/WellPoint team involved the medical community market-by-market, including state medical societies, says Eric Fennel, Wellpoint vice president for Innovation “The Zagat survey tool is designed to help patients choose between the two or three specialists their primary doctor may have provided as a referral,” he says, noting Zagat positioned it to help people find the best doctor fit.

WellPoint began rolling out the Zagat Health Survey last year to members of its Anthem Blues plans in Southern California, Ohio and Connecticut, but eventually will expand the tool to all 34.2 million members in 14 states.  Promoting it online and via direct mail, survey information built quickly, and over the last few quarters consumer feedback on providers increased exponentially.

In its assessment of this emerging trend, The Dark Report called this a great example of how and why the Internet is now an important marketing resource. For that reason, clinical laboratories and pathology groups that plan to enter the consumer test market should be expanding their Web presence and introducing patient-friendly services.

– P. Kirk

Related Information:

Zagat Gets Into Doctor Ratings

Blue Cross, Zagat to rank doctors

The Dangers of a “Zagat Guide” to Physicians

WellPoint, Zagat to launch doctor-rating Web tool

Zagat Reviews Doctors

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