Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Health-care services

By Tim Bonfield
Enquirer staff writer

Other than depending on recommendations from doctors, friends and family, consumers still find it hard to shop around for health-care services.

But help is available, and there are more resources now than there were a few years ago. Some provide free service, others charge a fee - and consumers still must exercise good judgment in evaluating their worth. Among resources:

Checking out doctors, hospitals, health plans:

• National Committee for Quality Assurance:

Accredits managed care health plans, rating them on a four-star scale on categories including access to care, training of network doctors and preventive health services.

• Consumers' Checkbook 800-213-7283.

Offers guides to top hospitals, doctors and health plans.

• HealthGrades Inc.

Offers grades on hospitals, nursing homes, hospice services, fertility clinics and home health agencies. It also offers physician profiles by name and specialty.

• Consumer Reports:

Publishes ratings of HMOs, PPOs and a wide variety of health-related products and services.

• U.S. News & World Report

Publishes an annual "America's Best Hospitals'' survey, including rankings by care specialty.

• Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Produces extensive databases of health services and offers consumer tips for dealing with health-care providers.

• Public Citizen

Publishes a state-by-state list of "questionable doctors," based on disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards.

• American Medical Association

AMA's "Doctor Finder" feature offers a national listing of doctors by specialty, which shows training and accreditations but does not rate doctors on quality factors.

• National Physicians DataSource LLC:

Allows people to search for doctors by ZIP code.

Source: Enquirer research

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