The Dose

Welcome to The Dose, which tackles the finances behind local health care and life sciences and points to the most interesting national analysis. Your host is J.K. Wall.

Health Care & Life Sciences / Life Science & Biotech

Indy patients love their doctors

July 14, 2014

Indianapolis-area patients, apparently, love their doctors.

Colorado-based Vanguard Communications has created a new Patient Happiness Index based on patient reviews of doctors posted on web sites. According to Vanguard, about 35 percent of patients say they have factored such reviews into their choice for or against a particular physician.

Doctors hate these reviews, saying they focus too little on the actual medical care and too much on the extras, such as convenience and bedside manner.

"It's a disservice to patients because it's so biased," Carmel psychiatrist Dr. Dmitry Arbuck told me about physcian rating services like RateMDs.com. Entire companies have started up just to help physician practices manage their reputations online.

But in Indianapolis, it appears the docs can rest easy. Indianapolis ranked fifth highest among the nation’s largest cities for the most positive reviews. On a five-point scale created by Vanguard, the average review by patients scored Indianapolis physicians at a 4.05.

San Francisco physicians topped the list, with an average review score of 4.15. The lowest-scoring city was Laredo, Texas, with an average review score of 3.20.

The only other Indiana city on the list was Fort Wayne, with a score of 3.49 out of 5.

I’m not sure why Indianapolis physicians scored so well. One possible explanation came to me when I was reading a lengthy report on the Indianapolis health care market issued this month by Tennessee-based market research firm HealthLeaders-InterStudy.

The report noted that the number of physicians in this market is higher, per person, than the rest of the country.

Nationally, there are 266 physicians for every 100,000 residents, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of those, about 127 are primary care doctors and about 139 are specialists.

Across all of Indiana, there are just 224 physicians for every 100,000 residents, or nearly 16 percent less than the national average. Around Indiana, 109 of those physicians practice in primary care and 116 are specialists.

(As an aside, Indiana also lags the nation on number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants. According to data collected by Kaiser Family Foundation, Indiana has 48 nurse practitioners per 100,000 population, versus 58 per 100,000 nationwide, ranking 40th-highest nationally. Indiana has 15 physician assistants per 100,000 population, versus 27 per 100,000 nationwide, ranking 47th-highest nationally.)

But in Marion County, the situation is quite different. It's hard to get good data on this, but one study estimated there are 33 percent more primary care physicians than the national average. Another study found residents in Marion County have twice as much access to physicians as even the second-best county in Indiana.

And the number of specialists is higher too, noted AnnJeanette Colwell, author of the HealthLeaders report.

That’s my best guess why patients in Indianapolis love their doctors—they’re accessible and able to spend time with them—at least more time than peers in other markets.

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