Eager to compare doctors online? Some Health 2.0 startups want to make it easier for you

(UPDATED: See below.)

hospital-record-image-250px.gifA group of nine healthcare companies and providers are aiming to turn the tables on often disorganized medical record-keeping — by standardizing information about doctors themselves.

The effort, known as dCard, is aimed at bringing a certain degree of order to the mishmash of information that dozens of online physician directory and rating services currently deal with. Most of these sites grab as much basic information about doctors as they can from publicly available sources — typically consisting, at a minimum, of the doctor’s specialty, contact information, and medical education — then rely on doctors themselves to flesh it out, correct any errors and provide updates, which is pretty clearly untenable for most overtasked physicians.

The solution offered by these nine organizations is to standardize a sort of “doctor dossier” via dCard — which, straightforwardly enough, stands for “data card.” “doctor card.” (UPDATE: I was working off an older copy of the release when I wrote this item, and the group changed the name in the intervening 24 hours. I’ve also updated the release.) The idea is to establish basic standards for doctor information that can be shared among adherents, improving the accuracy and clarity of information for health-conscious consumers while also making it easier for doctors to “own” their own online information by keeping a single source — as opposed to dozens — up to date with as much or as little detail as they like.

The group’s release about the standard, which it’s expecting to finalize in April, is here (PDF link). The founding organizations include Nashville, Tenn.-based change:healthcare (our coverage); Within3, an online network for health professionals; OrganizedWisdom Health, providers of a human-edited and doctor-reviewed health-search service; and a number of other largely Web-based healthcare-information organizations. (See the bottom of this item for a full list.)

More after the jump:

Data standards, while often important, are also usually about as interesting to read about as Swedish land-use planning, so feel free to skip ahead here unless the details really interest you. The dCard essentially aims to standardize doctor info in four basic categories: Personal, professional, educational and training. Personal info is about what you’d expected — name, specialty, certification and license information. The professional category includes office information, hours and accepted forms of insurance. Education is pretty self-explanatory, while training includes residency, fellowships and society memberships.

“The dCard is simply about getting companies and providers to all agree that what [physician] data is labeled and tagged is consistent,” says Christopher Parks, the co-founder and CEO of change:healthcare. The standard will be open — “all this proprietary crap has got to go,” Parks says — and set up in such a way that changes and updates to doctor profiles made at one site propagate to all others using the standard, although the details haven’t yet been worked out.

It’s all pretty basic stuff, actually, and yet it’s another symptom of the utter disorganization of U.S. healthcare that simply collecting all these facts and keeping them up to date is a fairly huge undertaking. The nine founding dCard members will begin putting existing physician information into the new format themselves, and hope that once they get far enough along, the improved efficiency and accuracy of the data will draw other companies into the standard.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that dCard or any other standard will eventually hold sway in the emerging Wild West of Health 2.0. Notably missing from the consortium are the 800 pound gorillas in the emerging field of consumer health — WebMD, RevolutionHealth, Microsoft and Google — and even at the small- and mid-sized level, there are far more companies outside the dCard group than inside. While it’s kind of hard to imagine why anyone would want to wage a standards war over something so relatively straightforward as doctor information, far stranger things have happened in healthcare, where economic incentives often don’t favor cooperation of any sort — one reason we’re nowhere near even informal national standards for electronic patient medical records.

I wish the dCard effort well, even though I have to say I’m concerned that even its narrow scope won’t save it from the buzzsaw that often greets reform efforts of any kind. This is, after all, the U.S. healthcare system, where no good deed goes unpunished. But maybe this time will be different.

dCard Consortium Members:

(Photo from Flickr user katherine of chicago under Creative Commons license.)