- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2000

Perhaps the realization that doctors are mere mortals, combined with access to the World Wide Web, has led 70 percent of Americans to take a more active role in their own health.
No matter the reasons, getting the best care should be a priority. Considering that medical mistakes in hospitals are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, people should have the right to be informed about their caregivers.
An award-winning Web site has helped Americans demystify the effort to get the best health care by providing for the past two years free access ratings of the best and worst health care providers around.

HealthGrades.com

Site address: www.healthgrades.com

Creator:

Kerry Hicks, in 1998. HealthGrades.com is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: HGRD) based in Lakewood, Colo.

Creator quotable:

"We created HealthGrades.com to help consumers take more control in managing their own and their family's health care, says Mr. Hicks, chairman and chief executive of HealthGrades.com. "It's amazing that people can find background information on cars, furniture and other goods, but before HealthGrades.com, there wasn't a place to go to learn more about your health care provider or services at your local hospital. Our goal is to help people make well-informed decisions to receive the best possible medical care."

Word from the Webwise:

Though the site offers a roster of health tools filled with excellent information, its real purpose is to look into the people who look into us.
HealthGrades.com equips visitors with surveys and extensive reviews of health care providers across the nation. One quickly can check local facilities or research those in vacation spots or future hometowns.
The site keeps an eye primarily on 600,000 physicians and 5,000 hospitals. Additionally, reviews of 400 health plans, 17,000 nursing homes, 10,000 mammography clinics, 300 fertility clinics, 60,000 chiropractors, 150,000 dentists, 21,000 assisted-living centers, 75 birth centers, 3,000 hospice facilities, 8,000 acupuncturists and 700 naturopathic physicians are offered.
Easy to understand, the ratings have a report-card feel and are based on standardized criteria using formulas HealthGrades.com has developed to process independent data from more than 75 public and privates sources.
Those sources include the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, state medical boards and health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and publicly available directories and telephone surveys.
The report cards rate facilities and providers, awarding one to five stars reflecting the quality of care. The rating also includes contact information, a map and driving directions.
The site's "Hospital Report Cards" reflect ratings for a wide variety of procedures or diagnoses in such fields as cardiology, neuroscience, orthopedics and pulmonary-respiratory.
Data used for analysis and ratings represent three years (1996 through 1998) of patient discharges, providing a database of sufficient size to "allow statistically valid conclusions" for as many hospital providers as possible.
This information was collected using the Medpar (Medicare Provider Analysis and Review) database, which includes the inpatient records of all Medicare patients, which were purchased from the Health Care Financing Administrations (HCFA), and inpatient records from 14 states.
HealthGrades.com's criteria for reviewing physicians includes board certification in the doctor's area of specialty, number of years in practice, hospital affiliations and reporting of any sanctions by Medicare or state medical boards.
For a doctor to earn "leading" status (the site's highest rating), the doctor's board certification must be in his or her practicing field (for example, the doctor must be certified in cardiology, not just internal medicine), and he or she must have admitting privileges to at least one hospital with three or more stars in that specialty.
HealthGrades.com also provides interesting health care content as well.
Visitors can click on "Wellness Manager" for a "RealAge Breast Screening Tool," "One Minute to Better Health" section, "Ask the Pharmacist" forum and "Health Focus" pages packed with articles provided by Reuters Health Information and Internet provider Healthology.com (www.healthology.com).

Some final helpful features are a glossary of health care terms, including those used to order procedures and terms used by the health care industry, including insurance companies.

Ease of use:

The site needs to become more efficient for visitors who already know the name of their admitting hospital. Users should be able to find a facility's report card by name, just as a doctor's rating can be retrieved with a name. As it works now, visitors must keep poking around, as I did, going from area to area trying to find my hospital, Shady Grove Adventist.

Don't miss:

Proving that one might not be as old as he feels, or looks, the "RealAge" test collects information from registered visitors and creates a statistical profile of how the years have taken their toll. Using a variety of factors such as health status, education and employment, sleep habits, physical attributes, heredity, stress levels and physical activity in a multiple-choice format, the test lowers or raises one's age based on the answers.
As respondents make choices, pop-up windows show the visitor's "new" age and offer suggestions and tips to decrease that age by practicing healthy lifestyle, exercise and nutrition regimens.
Of course, taking the very long and involved test itself added at least a month or two, but I am proud to report I am four years younger than I thought I was.

Information grade: A

Have a cool site about science or health for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

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