The federal government on Wednesday released a large data set showing medical procedures performed around the country and how much individual physicians charged and were paid by Medicare for that work.
The data allows patients to look at information pertaining to their specific doctors or health providers for procedures including X-rays, flu shots and new patient visits.
The information can have some benefit to patients, said Prof. John Petrila of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health.
“I think a consumer can learn how often a physician has done a particular thing,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing if experience matters, which it does.”
The data is from 2012 and represents $77 billion in Medicare payments.
Petrila expects the now-public information will also draw attention to medical procedure costs.
“The effect over time will be to draw attention to folks who make a lot of money and procedures that are very expensive,” he said.
An Associated Press analysis of the data reports a small percentage of the physicians getting Medicare reimbursements make up a large amount of the dollars spent. According to the AP analysis, 344 physicians received at least $3 million each. Together, they were paid almost $1.5 billion.
But some in the medical field warn the data could be misinterpreted.
“The data can contain errors,” said Dr. Chris Pittman, president of the Hillsborough Medical Association.
For example, when Pittman looked at the data set, he said it listed him as being with a practice where he no longer worked in 2012.
Pittman said he doesn’t have a problem with the numbers being released, but warned patients that it could be misleading. For example, multiple medical professionals may bill under one doctor’s number, which could make it appear as though one person is taking in a large amount of Medicare dollars that are instead spread between several people.
“I’m a very well-informed physician, I’m a 17-year cancer survivor and there is no way this data is going to help me decide which doctor is going to be better for me, or to send my patients to,” Pittman said.
Consumers can look up doctors and procedures in this database.