State agency websites don’t strive for superior turning ability, extra shine, or spin cycle speed. But anyone who’s consulted Consumer Reports to compare vacuum cleaners or hybrid cars will recognize the red- and black-dotted rating system the publisher adopted in its recent ratings of state medical board websites.

A Survey and Ranking of State Medical and Osteopathic Board Websites in 2015, released March 29, 2016, was a joint project of Consumers Union and the Informed Patient Institute. The report’s authors also published their findings in a Consumer Reports magazine cover story entitled, “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You.”

Overall, say the authors, who used 61 criteria to produce their ratings, most sites were difficult to navigate, and all sites can be improved to provide the public with easier access to important information about their doctors, especially relating to their history of complaints and discipline.

However, it’s clear that in the twenty years since Massachusetts became the first state to mandate online physician profiles, much progress has been made. Today, 92% of state medical boards have a list, somewhere on their site, of board disciplinary actions against doctors. California’s and New York’s medical boards top the rankings, with good to excellent ratings of their performance on the eight categories: search capabilities, complaint and board information, identifying doctor information, board disciplinary actions, hospital disciplinary actions, federal disciplinary actions, malpractice payouts, and convictions.

Other highlights of the rankings:

  • Many large states’ boards were scored as having better websites. In addition to California and New York, these included Massachusetts, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and Oregon.
  • Correspondingly, states with the lowest scores (Vermont, Arkansas, Washington Osteopathic, Wyoming, Montana, Hawaii, New Mexico Osteopathic, Indiana, and Mississippi) also tended to be among the least populous.
  • Malpractice information tends to be limited, with only about a third (35%) of sites having any information about malpractice on their physician profiles. Only six boards—Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Nevada medical and osteopathic)—carry information about all malpractice payouts.
  • All but one board (Indiana) was rated at least “fair” on complaint and board information.
  • Almost all states (97%) have clear instructions on how to file a complaint, and more than half (54%) now allow consumers to file a complaint online.
  • All but one board (Mississippi) was rated at least “fair” on search capabilities.
  • A sizable majority of boards (43 out of the 65) were rated “poor” on inclusion of convictions and only nine were rated “excellent.”
  • Only six boards did better than “poor” on displaying federal disciplinary actions, with just two of those (California and North Carolina) rated as “excellent.”
  • Only three boards were rated “excellent” on malpractice payouts, while a large majority (42 out of 65) were rated “poor.” Reforms urged by Consumers Union to make websites more customer-friendly include:
  • Use of easily understandable search terms on home pages and eye-catching graphics to help consumers quickly find doctor-specific information.
  • Including a plain-language summary of any disciplinary actions taken by a medical board on a physician’s profile, with the date, reason, duration, and restrictions tied to the order, as well as links to documents with more detailed information.
  • In addition to board disciplinary orders, more comprehensive information on all physicians including malpractice lawsuits, disciplinary actions taken by hospitals and federal agencies, and criminal convictions.
  • Allowing the public to file complaints online and providing clear information about how complaints are handled, including expected time frames and when and how the complainant will be notified of the outcome.
  • Making the National Practitioners Data Bank open to the public and accessible for free by medical boards when checking on licensed doctors.

© 2016 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, www.plrnet.org. Reprinted by permission.

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