Know what they say about Piedmont doctors?

Dr. J. Thomas Taylor’s patient rating is 4.8 on a scale of 1 to 5 — with 5 being the best score. Comments from the internist’s patients include these:

“The best primary care doctor in the world.”

Dr. Thomas Taylor
Dr. J. Thomas Taylor

“Really cares about his patients.”

“Very friendly and upbeat.”

One of the comments is not so complimentary: “Maybe I should attribute his mood to the fact that it was Monday morning and they were off to a late start … but Dr. Taylor was very unfriendly …”

Consumers can now go online and find such feedback on more than 200 Piedmont Healthcare physicians, along with an overall rating score for each.

The Atlanta-based health care system is among the first in the nation to publish the patient satisfaction ratings and reviews of its doctors. The reviews are available for the first time this week on its website.

Each Piedmont doctor with more than 30 ratings will have his or her score published. Taylor said Wednesday that 30 reviews are much more representative than the lesser number that are sometimes found on other rating sites. “It gives a fairer picture of what I do.”

“Doctors are competitive,’’ he told GHN. “Patient comments give us feedback. It’s a learning experience.”

Ratings have been publicly available for years on hospitals and health plans. The grades can vary widely, depending on who’s doing the rating and what criteria are used.

But hospital ratings of physicians are new. University of Utah Health Care was the first hospital system to start posting patients’ feedback on its website.

Even though every doctor scored a four- or five-star rating out of a maximum of five stars, a University of Utah Health Care official pointed out to Kaiser Health News that not all the published comments left by patients on the website were glowing.

Other systems are considering a similar move, Dr. James Merlino, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, told Kaiser Health News. “This is clearly a trend that is coming,” he said, adding that his own organization is looking into it.

The article said Healthgrades and Vitals, and broader consumer sites including Yelp and Consumer Reports, offer physician reviews.

A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that many consumers believe this rating information is useful.

The article cited a 2012 survey that found that 59 percent of respondents said online physician rating sites were “somewhat important’’ or “very important’’ in choosing a physician, though such sites were endorsed less frequently than several other factors, such as word of mouth from family and friends.

“Piedmont is one of two health systems in the country to publish reviews at this scope,” Matt Gove, chief marketing officer at Piedmont, said in a statement. “Publishing these reviews is about becoming more transparent about our customer experience and also empowering the public to make informed decisions about their health.”

Besides its flagship hospital in Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead district, Piedmont has four hospitals: Piedmont Fayette Hospital, Piedmont Henry Hospital, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital (in Jasper) and Piedmont Newnan Hospital.

Piedmont Newnan Hospital
Piedmont Newnan Hospital

The reviews are gathered by Press Ganey, an independent patient research company that does nationwide, standardized reviews.

There are some reservations about the growing interest in patient feedback. A Forbes article last year noted concerns that Press Ganey ratings might lead some doctors to overtreat their patients by giving them more discretionary services – interventions that carry a risk of adverse effects.

And many doctors have incentive plans at least partly tied to patient satisfaction scores, even though pleasing the patient is not always a reliable measure of good health care.

Piedmont has shared its patient satisfaction information internally for several years, but this is the first public airing of the scores. Other Atlanta hospital systems use the Press Ganey ratings internally as well, Piedmont spokeswoman Amanda Bartlett said.

Only verified Piedmont patients have their comments published. The health care system plans to display the reviews of its remaining 800-plus doctors once they get 30 or more reviews.

As in Utah, all of the 215 Piedmont doctors rated so far received between a 4 and a 5 rating. Taylor’s 4.8 score comes from 80 ratings.

He acknowledged that some very skilled physicians may not have strong people skills, and so may not get that high a score.

The ratings are “one part of how you find a doctor,” Taylor said. “You have to find a doctor that suits your personality. There are a lot of things to look at.”

Bartlett said she thinks other hospitals may follow suit.

Taylor added that the trend in consumer feedback affects everyone from car dealers to health care organizations.

“Everywhere you go, you get a survey,” he said.