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SAN FRANCISCO-A health care purchasing group based in California is issuing a report card of how satisfied consumers are with their physicians.

That in itself would not be unique: Buyers' collectives have frequently tried to exert clout in their communities by exposing the quality of managed care plans. What is unusual about the reports issued last week by the Pacific Business Group on Health in San Francisco is that doctors' groups-their professional corporations, not the HMO or other managed care network to which they belong-are the key groups being judged.

This is significant in that it brings the health quality movement one step closer to analyzing doctor performance on the basis of individual performance-although no one at PBGH is going that far in making predictions.

The new scorecards from PBGH are intended more for consumers' eyes than those of plan sponsors. The data is available to all via the World Wide Web as well as a toll-free telephone number for universal access, and PBGH hopes employees will take advantage of the scoring during open enrollment later this year.

The scores, named collectively "California Consumer Healthscope," are based on written questionnaires returned by the patients of 49 California physician groups and nine others in the northwest United States, and cover areas including overall satisfaction, quality of care, ease of getting care and referrals, doctors' communication skills, and percent reporting blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Preventive care counseling on such topics as smoking, motor vehicle safety and sexually transmitted diseases also were measured. Roughly 50% of the doctor groups in the state gave the questionnaire to patients.

"Good health is good for employees and good for business," said Tom Davies, a manager of managed care for Stamford, Conn.-based GTE Corp. Mr. Davies, who has worked closely with PBGH to create the new ratings, said the new data will allow consumers to be well-armed innocents in the market share battles being waged by physicians of Northern and Southern California. But despite early hesitation, there was little doubt among doctors that a grading project was needed to create standards for care across the state, he said.

"There was a high degree of consensus around this," Mr. Davis said.

The real purpose of the report cards is to drive improvement of doctors statewide, said Cheryl Damberg, PBGH director of quality. "This is the first time they (consumers) have been able to see and evaluate quality," she said.

To get an accurate view of the quality of health care, employees must look both at managed care plan report cards and those for doctor groups, Ms. Damberg said.

"This shows medical groups in certain markets are really of key impact in how health care is provided," said Barbara Decker, benefit manager for Southern California Edison in Rosemead, Calif. "We found a lot. We feel this gives (doctors) a great insight."