I am a huge advocate of proactive health care, ever since my oldest son Christopher was born at 24 weeks gestation and we were thrown into the scary, risky world of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Back in 1996, we were the rare parents who read Chris' medical chart every single day (now they encourage this behavior, but back then, not all doctors and nurses were thrilled we were doing it!) and did everything we could to advocate for the best treatment for him. A few months after Chris was finally discharged, we were invited to join the hospital's NICU Family Advisory Board, which advised the unit on how to be more family centered. Ever since then, I've been a big believer in family- and patient-centered care, and if I'm not getting it, I say something about it...for example, my less-than-pleasant experience with the neurosurgeon's office last winter when I had brain surgery. I spoke up. I believe you get better health care when you are well informed and engaged, and it's important to find and retain doctors who value their patients' involvement in their own care.
I believe in finding doctors who are not only technically proficient and knowledgeable, but also respectful and kind to their patients...who don't look down on us but give us the necessary information to make our own best choices. I also believe in word of mouth and getting referrals from people on just about anything--books, movies, contractors (hello, Angie's List), and vacation recommendations. Fortunately there's a web site that allows you to view physician ratings, too--Healthgrades. Healthgrades allows you to rate doctors, or you can use the site to find a doctor, dentist, or hospital near you. It is a user-driven web site, so some of these providers don't have very many ratings, which can result in less-reliable data. You can also see if the physician has had any history of sanctions or malpractice and his or her hospital affiliations, specialty areas, and accepted health plans.
Healthgrades also offers health care tips and articles, and they recently published a study about women's health care: Healthgrades Women’s Health Report 2013: “Lean In” When Making Healthcare Decisions to Get Your Best Outcome. The report discusses the quality of health care for women in American hospitals, evaluating clinical outcomes for women in maternity care, gynecologic surgery, and orthopedic, cardiovascular, and critical care. The report also ranks states that have the highest and lowest rates of neonatal mortality, in addition to other statistics. As scientists have found, women often react differently to certain medications and experience different types of symptoms than men (for example, heart attack symptoms), so it's important that our health care be considered and researched separately. The report encourages women to seek out health care providers that receive five-star ratings, as they tend to give the best care. It has some excellent information, and I encourage you to read it!
The hospital ratings on Healthgrades are based on patient safety indicators as well as patient feedback. It's interesting because the two hospitals in Portland I'm most familiar with--Providence St. Vincent (where I had my ear/brain surgery last December) and Legacy Emanuel--receive lower-than-average patient ratings in a number of categories. I'm not sure why, but it says to me that you shouldn't ONLY rely on this site, but combine your research with word-of-mouth recommendations and other sources.
I'm glad to say that my regular physicians all receive positive ratings on Healthgrades, including my sister (who is in fact on the Healthgrades Honor Roll). My only wish is that it would allow you to comment on your experience (just give a 1- to 5-star rating), as I often find those comments even more helpful than the actual scores. Some of the other doctor rating sites give you that option.
I think it's important for all of us to find physicians we trust and actually like as well, and using Healthgrades is a step in that direction. I once saw an internist who my sister had done her residency with, and I actively disliked her! She was dismissive and rude, and I never went back.
Lean in and take charge: it's your health!