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Murray dermatologist Brian Williams will listen to your concerns and thoroughly answer your questions. But it's hard to get an appointment, and once you do, you may have a long wait in the reception room.

That's according to one patient's experience, posted on Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah's Web site. Should you use such information to find a doctor?

The state's second largest insurance company thinks you'll want to - and similar efforts to put doctor evaluations on the Web are under way by other insurers and the Utah Partnership for Value-Driven Health Care. On Friday, federal health officials posted patient satisfaction surveys for hospitals nationwide at http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs. gov.

In its effort to be more transparent, Regence is asking patients to anonymously rate their doctors' bedside manner and things like ease of parking and check-in efficiency on a scale of 1 to 5. Those scores have been available online to its customers for a month, although just a few doctors have been rated.

The insurance company is about to promote it more widely and, starting April 6, its customers will be able to post comments at http://www.ut.regence. com about their experiences.

A credible critique

Doctors will have a chance to respond, and Regence's Utah medical director Robert Wheeler said the unscientific ratings may improve the care the doctors provide.

Polls show patients want the information: A Regence survey of its members found 94 percent of respondents said having information about other patients' experiences was important. A Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll found adults think patient satisfaction surveys are a more fair way to gauge doctor quality than measures like frequency of preventive screenings.

"It's the kind of information you get from talking to somebody over the back fence," Wheeler said. "Some people will make this one more piece of information they use when making decisions about going somewhere for health care when it's not an emergency."

Several Web sites, like, allow users to rate doctors without verifying they are patients. The Regence system sends the surveys only to patients. A moderator will ensure comments don't violate patient privacy. And if someone reports a criminal complaint, Regence won't post the comment and says it will investigate.

SelectHealth, the state's largest health insurer, is working on its own rating system. A roll-out date hasn't been set.

"There's a ton of scores out there already," noted company spokesman Jason Burgess. "How do we know as consumers that it's credible information? Our goal is to provide the most credible, accurate, comprehensive information there is."

'I'm not worried'

Doctors' reaction has been mixed. While noting that people complain more than they praise, the Utah Medical Association said it has few concerns with the Regence system.

Mark Fotheringham, UMA spokesman, said some doctors could nevertheless be unfairly dinged. "There are some physicians who are wonderful clinicians, who are geniuses as far as medical care is concerned, but whose bedside manner is not as good," he said. "Do you want somebody who's friendly and nice, or is the most important thing, can this guy practice medicine? Ideally, you're going to want both."

A couple of years ago, the UMA complained about UnitedHealthCare's rating system that doles out stars to doctors based on their cost. "We have a real problem with that," Fotheringham said.

It's unclear if UnitedHealthCare changed its system based on UMA's complaints. But today, the insurance company's Web site identifies physicians who follow best practices in care with one star. They get a second star if they are deemed efficient.

Williams, the dermatologist, said he is comfortable with the Regence effort. Most of his patients are referred by their family and friends, he said. And the patient who found the wait times to be too long did praise his care. "I'm not worried. I'm very nice to my patients and I do my best for customer service," he said.

But he said the scores are subjective ("It's like saying how do you like the Mona Lisa?"), and he worries they may give the wrong impression. Short wait times, for example, may indicate doctors don't spend enough time with their patients, he noted.

"It's great to get information, but I would hardly base my medical decision on something like that."

Medical report cards

Christie North, facilitator for the Utah Partnership for Value-Driven Health Care, agrees consumer information is useful, but said patients need information about doctor quality.

That's why the partnership, with help from the Utah Medical Association and insurers including Regence and SelectHealth, hope to provide consumers with easy-to-understand quality data by the end of the year.

For selected chronic conditions, patients will be able to see how doctors compare to national standards. With diabetes, consumers could see how often their doctor tested patients' blood sugar levels compared to how often they should, for example.

"One of the biggest concerns from doctors is it's going to be a report card that will make them look bad," North said. "Some toes will be stepped on. We don't want to step on toes if we can't back up the data."

Eventually, the group will rate insurance plans, too, highlighting how often they reject claims, for instance. That's something Williams would support: "BlueCross BlueShield, where's their report card?"

Rating Utah hospitals

The results of patient satisfaction surveys at more than 30 Utah hospitals were released Friday by federal health officials. Patients were asked a range of questions, from how well their pain was controlled to whether their room was clean and quiet. The results are available at http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs. gov.