Online Ratings Irk Doctors
By Kim Painter,
see original article at USA TODAY
Considering a new doctor? Hoping to learn more about a doctor you already see? Or maybe you’d like to praise or pan one.
You could do it the old-fashioned way and talk to friends and relatives or even the doctor in question. Or you could do this: Go online and read and respond (anonymously, if you like) to everything you find about that doctor, not only on basic search engines but on a growing list of websites that rate, rank and dissect the careers of physicians.
As of this month, you can even read and write doctor ratings at Angie’s List, the site where members in 120 metropolitan areas rank their plumbers, roofers and landscapers.
But before you start clicking, know this: Your doctor may hate being treated like a plumber — or a dating show contestant.
“Imagine there was a dating site where every time you went on a date, someone could rate you,” says Delia Chiaramonte, a family physician and patient adviser in Towson, Md. “That would really change the way you saw dating. … It definitely makes (doctors) paranoid.”
Doctor-rating sites — especially those that include patient ratings and comments — have the potential to sour already strained relationships between the nation’s patients and physicians, Chiaramonte and other critics say. Though doctors care very much what patients think and welcome scientifically valid patient surveys, anonymous online ratings and rants can ruin reputations and destroy trust, says Nancy Nielsen, president-elect of the American Medical Association.
Patient care suffers, the critics say, when doctors are made defensive and fearful.
But the creators of such sites say they offer essential information. Some, including HealthGrades.com and the newer Vitals.com, include details on training, experience, certification and disciplinary history along with patient ratings. Some include information supplied by physicians: At HealthGrades.com, physicians can pay a fee to add details and even a video to their profiles, says spokesman Scott Shapiro; at Angie’s List, physicians are welcome to respond to members’ posts, says founder Angie Hicks. Vitals.com also invites physicians to respond, says co-founder Mitchell Rothschild.
Consumers are smart enough to consider the thoughts of other consumers as just one factor when choosing a physician, just as they have traditionally considered the opinions of friends and neighbors, Shapiro says. At HealthGrades.com, consumer ratings (on factors ranging from office cleanliness to a physician’s listening skills) are just “one data element among many,” he says. The site does not include free-form comments.
Angie’s List does, and the comments are useful, Hicks says: “People are still looking for that over-the-back-fence kind of recommendation.”
But the fact that Web surfers can’t see who’s behind that fence bothers many physicians. “One disgruntled patient” could cause a lot of trouble, Nielsen says. And, she says, “doctors are not going to want to spend their time going into a (site) and correcting a smear.”
Hicks, Shapiro and Rothschild say their sites block multiple negative or positive postings from the same source. And, they say, the bottom line is that we live in an age in which consumers seek information from many different sources before making major decisions. The sites just make relevant facts and opinions more accessible, they say.
“A lot of information is good,” Rothschild says. “More is better.”
HOW TO TAKE THE MORE TRADITIONAL ROUTES
Here are some other options for checking out doctors:
Ask for referrals from a physician you trust. Be sure to ask why your doctor recommends particular colleagues.
Read doctor profiles at websites maintained by hospitals and physicians’ offices.
Check with state medical boards for records of disciplinary action against a physician. Get started with the Federation of State Medical Boards at fsmb.org.