Most Americans believe there are fair and reliable ways to gauge the quality of health care. 9 in 10 Americans are interested in their health plans having a website where you can rate doctors on issues like trust, communications, medical knowledge, availability and office environment – and participating on such social networks (THINK: The Health CAre Scoop or Zagat/WellPoint).

The latest Wall Street Journal/HarrisInteractive survey published March 25 finds that 3 in 4 consumers favor patient satisfaction surveys – once again asserting they value opinions from peers (aka “people like me”) even more than those coming from institutions, whether private sector (e.g., employers or health plans) or public (e.g., government agencies).

Nonetheless, consumers still do value other sources for ratings:

– 66% like medical boards

– 65% value assessments by third parties, such as JCAHO

– 64% of consumers like measurements on preventive screening tests

– 58% believe the use of EMRs is a proxy for quality

– 42% see malpractice suits as a useful measure of quality health care.

The timing of this poll nicely coincides with the news that Angie’s List — known for home repair service ratings — launched a health care ratings service earlier this month. On Angie’s List, consumers will be able to rate some 50 types of health care providers — including doctors, dentists, pharmacies, hospitals and health plans. This effort represents the kind that the WSJ/HarrisInteractive poll says consumers want: peer-to-peer recommendations.

Angie’s List is operational in 124 U.S. cities. Those who subscribe to Angie’s List pay as much as $59 a year to access ratings on about 280 categories of local services.

Angie’s List polled their membership, 76% of whom said they wanted health care ratings on the List.

They will use the same grading system the List uses for plumbers: grades of A to F for price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality and professionalism.

For those consumers who value government-sponsored sites, last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched their new site on hospital quality.

The Hospital Compare Web site includes geographically-specific data on hospitals, outcomes and process measures. One consumer-friendly measure included int he site is how often nurses communicated well with their patients. The data for the site were drawn from a random sample of patients from October 2006 and June 2007.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Consumers want ratings, and they’re getting them. There are report cards and analyses from public and private sources, provided by ‘experts’ and consumers themselves. Consumers will clearly confront a growing list of choices for ratings. These sites will be organized differently and based on different methodologies. It is too soon to tell what the critical success factors for these sites will be. In the meantime, consumers will have a growing array of choices, and therefore some confusion will ensue. Still, that sort of heavy lifting will be useful for consumers who want to engage in the journey of learning what health care quality is, and as important, helping to define just what it is by leveraging the power of social networks and the wisdom of crowds.