Whether it's a hernia repair or heart bypass, doctors with a lot of experience performing a given operation tend to have better results. The problem for patients in choosing a physician has been finding out which ones have the know-how.
Now a court ruling appears to open the way for consumer access to such information for the first time, potentially transforming the relationship between doctors and patients, as well as the business of healthcare.
In a little-noticed decision last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of a consumer group that sued the Health and Human Services Department to allow disclosure of specific data about doctors from the Medicare claims database.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan concluded that releasing the data would be "a significant public benefit," and ordered the department to turn it over by Sept. 21.
With information on more than 40 million patients and 700,000 doctors, the Medicare database is far richer than any private insurer's. Though it does not have information on some doctors, such as pediatricians, who don't treat Medicare patients, it is considered the mother lode for data on those who treat adults, because Medicare recipients are a mainstay of most practices.