Is your surgeon better than my surgeon? Even if that were true, with all the nuances involved in performing a surgical procedure and the infinite number of iterative complications that can occur due simply to the design and function and complexity of the human body, would it even be possible to know? Well, there are at least two companies that believe they have found the Holy Grail of scoring physicians on their quality of care.
Several years ago, a company by the name of Consumers’ Checkbook (Checkbook.org) filed a FOIA request with HHS to make available line item data with physician identifiers from the CMS database. HHS refused, Consumers’ Checkbook sued, and the district court ruled in its favor. HHS appealed the decision and was supported by the AMA as well as other medical societies. In the end, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that physicians could maintain the confidentiality of their payments from Medicare, and reversed the decision. Ultimately, however, HHS threw in the towel and subsequently released the data, or at least made it available at a cost. As a result, pretty much anyone who has a computer and the cash has access to both physician and hospital claims data, and even though they supposedly only contain de-identified data, the fact that an entity can objectively follow a patient based on treatment and/or admission date, procedures performed, and overall diagnoses as well as follow-up treatment and/or admissions really challenges just how private our data really are.