NY state physician ratings site necessary

Tess Woosley, Opinion Editor

As part of the 2015-16 state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed cutting funds for a government website that provides information about physicians for consumers: nydoctorprofile.com. The 15-year-old site — which unfortunately looks its age — began as a project to provide physician malpractice information to the public and was expanded to include physician’s education and accepted insurance plans. This type of widely available information is a critical tool to fight inequalities in health care access. It is not pragmatic to shutter a useful website that connects patients with good doctors and costs only $1.2 million in a budget of $141.6 billion.

I am not from New York, but I plan to stay here after graduation. When I originally moved, NYU helped me gradually transition into college life by offering housing, meals, community and critically, the Student Health Center. There was never a question of where to go when I got strep throat on the first day of classes my freshman year, but there could be when I start my first day of work. It is not surprising that young adults aged 18 to 25 are less likely to visit the doctor than adolescents or older age groups — we are generally healthier and lack the institutional or parental influences that encourage visits to the doctor. For anyone lacking a physician, the number of doctor’s offices in any large city is overwhelming. Any tool to help patients sort through the array of options should be a priority.

The governor has cited the fact that this information is available on other websites as a reason for the closure, but few provide the same guarantee that government regulation does. The only vaguely similar federal program is the Physician Compare website, which only features profiles of physicians who accept Medicare. The other alternatives either include  only one aspect of the state website’s profile or are privately owned. In addition, none of these provide language assistance in Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Haitian Creole like the New York state site.

Physicians are not required by law to give information to private rating websites. Private sites like HealthGrades and WebMD rely on patient reviews to rank physicians. There is nothing to prevent physicians from inflating their own ratings, or any regulation to prevent paid placements that already occur on
Google Maps.

By failing to both keep this website modern and to market it as a tool for young adults, Cuomo is missing an opportunity to improve public health. Information on local doctors is critical, and deserves the protection a government-run website provides. This program should not be cut from the budget, it should receive the funds required to update it so it becomes more efficient.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 3 print edition. Email Tess Woosley at [email protected]