"The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." -- Sydney J. Harris

Massive doctor data release aimed at helping consumers

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – It is considered the mother lode of doctor information and up until recently consumers did not have access to it.

Once the clock strikes midnight on the east coast, Medicare plans to release billing records for more than 800,000 physicians across the country.

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“It’s the market place of ideas. Don’t keep the data bottled up,” said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook.

Krughoff said the release is a big win for consumers. Since 2005 his advocacy group has been fighting to make this type of data public, even suing the government.

“I hope it will be a part of a wider trend for information to be available to consumers,” he said.

The data will show payments to doctors for their services and how those payments compared to other physicians.

While the federal government is only releasing data from 2012, Krughoff believes the information will eventually allow consumers to look up how often a doctor has performed a certain procedure.

“Doctors who have done more cases with certain types of procedures on average are going to do better in terms of their results,” he said.

There has been some push back by the American Medical Association, according to the Associated Press.

A spokesperson told the AP, a “broad approach to releasing physician payment data will mislead the public into making inappropriate and potentially harmful treatment decisions and will result in unwarranted bias against physicians that can destroy careers,” said AMA president Ardis Dee Hoven.

The AP also reports the access could change the way medicine is practiced in America by combining billing data with other sources of information which would allow people to focus in on a certain doctor.

Just because the information is available, however does not mean it will make it easier for consumers.

Geoff Bartsh, a vice president at Medica told KARE 11, the information the government plans to release Wednesday will be vast and unfiltered, which is why he doesn’t call this a game-changer, at least not yet.

“I think we’re a ways away from again finding a way to display the data, that is will be a game-changer for the consumer,” said Bartsh.

A Medicare official told KARE 11 a website could be set up for consumers as soon as later this week allowing people to look up individual doctors as it relates to their billing records.

Bartsh said Minnesota has been a head of the “transparency curve” as it relates to medical information. He points to Minnesota Community Measurement, a website that allows consumers to learn more about health care providers in the state.

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