Beginning in January, 1 million of WellPoint’s 35 million members will be able to rate their doctors using a survey developed by Zagat, the company famous for its restaurant guides.
Since the advent of high-deductible health plans five years ago, consumers have complained that they have little information to evaluate doctors and that the tools from health insurers are either inadequate or untrustworthy.
To fill that void, consumer-product rating organizations including J.D. Power and Associates, Consumer Reports and Consumers’ Checkbook have expanded into the health care market. Microsoft has released a Web site for health care consumers, as have WebMD and Revolution Health, a company created by AOL founder Steve Case.
Since Zagat is well known, members may be more likely to participate in the surveys, says Jeffrey Nemetz, principal of Chicago-based Healthcare Branding Group.
The survey will be based on the methodology of the Zagat guides, where diners rate their experience in four categories—food, décor, service and cost. The WellPoint survey will evaluate trust, communication, availability and office environment. The guide will then rate doctors based on Zagat’s well-known 30-point score.
“They are hoping people will opt in rather than opt out because the brand means something,” Nemetz says.
The online survey will include a list of patient comments but not the pithy summaries found in the Zagat guides. The categories rate a patient’s confidence in their physician, the bedside manner, whether patients are seen in a timely manner, staff quality and office environment.
Zagat has also provided its survey expertise to employers, says company co-founder Nina Zagat. Among the surveys it produces is a guide to healthy restaurants for Pfizer employees.
Though some dispute the usefulness of rating doctors based on a subjective experience, the Zagat survey approach is less controversial.
The American Medical Association has criticized efforts to rank doctors using medical criteria, but an AMA spokeswoman said the association had no position on the Zagat survey for WellPoint.
Nina Zagat says the ratings are meant to let consumers evaluate the things they are qualified to judge in a doctor.
“The point is for WellPoint to enable its members to have the most information that might be of interest to them when they are deciding on a doctor,” she says, “and to give them the ability to say what they think.”