New Online Tool Offers Data on Physicians' Prescribing Patterns

ProPublica has launched a new online tool allowing the public for the first time to view the prescribing practices and identities of physicians and other health care providers under Medicare Part D, ProPublica/Washington Post reports.

The tool accompanies ProPublica's analysis of Medicare Part D data from 2007 through 2010. The data -- obtained under the Freedom of Information Act -- showed widespread prescribing of drugs that are potentially harmful, disorienting or addictive for elderly U.S. residents (Weber et al. [1], ProPublica/Washington Post, 5/11).

The online tool -- called Prescriber Checkup -- contains information on nearly 350,000 health care providers who have written at least 50 prescriptions for one drug under Medicare Part D during 2010 (Weber et al. [2], ProPublica/Washington Post, 5/11).  The tool includes data on providers' patient populations and prescribing choices, including:

  • The average length of a provider's prescriptions;
  • The percentage of patients age 65 and older;
  • The percentage of patients receiving at least one antipsychotic; and
  • The percentage of patients age 65 and older receiving at least one antipsychotic.

Consumers can use the online tool to:

  • Compare providers' prescribing practices to others in their state and specialty;
  • Search a list of the 500 most-prescribed drugs to see the top prescribers; and
  • Query individual providers to see which drugs they prescribe.

The tool also features a chart detailing the most prescribed drugs out of the American Geriatrics Society's list of medications that are risky or inappropriate for elderly patients (LaFleur et al., ProPublica, 5/11).

The authors noted that some doctors treat larger numbers of seniors and patients with disabilities, meaning that their ranking as a high prescriber does not necessarily mean they should be avoided (Weber et al. [2], ProPublica/Washington Post, 5/11).

Robert Steed
Naturally, the first thing I did was look for myself. Fascinating information, but still very superficial. Why can't my $$$ EMR give me this feedback? If I file an FOI, can I get the raw data for the prescriptions I've written, or would that be a privacy violation?
Patrick Sauer
I find it difficult to take seriously any publication that can criticise by saying, "avoid" without proposing a better alternate solution.

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