Physician Rating Websites, a Good Tool for the Patient?

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice
A few days ago I posted about online patient journals which are said to improve patient satisfaction. This integration of technology into the health care is surely a boon, but where else does it come into play? There are websites, such as Vital.com or Healthgrades.com, that permit users to rate physicians. We have all done it for other services online-whether it is through e-Bay, Amazon, or other-like websites. So is this the next great tool for patients to rate and review physicians in an effort to protect yourself from potential malpractice claims?

Probably not.

 

While the websites serve a laudable function, they are quite capricious if not downright deceptive. One study conducted by the Journal of General Internal Medicine identified several deficiencies in these types of websites. For one, the websites permit for anonymous ratings. The study found that some physicians had indeed rated themselves, and of course each review had been "glowing." Another doctor, criticizing the system and the weaknesses of it, was able to raise his rating significantly by posting multiple positive reviews about himself. Even though most websites can block "similar" IP addresses to prevent this, the critic submitted reviews on his mobile phone, laptop, iPad, and then desktop to exhibit a way around this safeguard. Not only could a boosting physician do this, but so could an aggrieved patient-or even worse, a competitor-carrying out a vendetta against a good physician.

 

Another major flaw relates primarily to how capricious the rating system is. What may be rated as "good" or 4 stars to you, may be "excellent" or 5 stars to me; there is no criterion available for accurately rating the physicians. Complicating this is that the same questions and criteria are not specialty-specific. The duties of a neurosurgeon, pediatrician, and pathologist all differ greatly and cannot simply be summed with such basic questions, but this is how those websites are setup.

 

Moreover, the volume of ratings itself leaves most physician ratings with such a small sample size it is almost guaranteed to be deficient. Especially considering those ratings will likely be A) an aggrieved patient or B) a self-boosting physician. In fact, the study found that only three out of every 250 physicians had been rated five or more times. Further frustrating the websites' purpose, almost ninety-perfect of all review were positive!

 

While the current health care reform seeks to improve transparency of the health care industry, these websites are likely causes more vagueness than clarity. But they may not even be serving a strong purpose anyway. A study found that eighty-percent of Californian adults looked to the internet for health care related information, but only twenty-five percent looked for physician rating websites. Of that, a de minimis two-percent made physician changes based on such internet data. 


When it comes down to choosing a physician, do your research online but make sure to branch out from there; it should not be your only source of information. If you feel you have been aggrieved by a physician, do not rant about it in a review online as it has the potential to defeat attorney-client privilege-an important protection in litigation. But do make sure to speak with a trained professional to sift through the facts, and to build your case based on the law. Please call for a free case evaluation today!

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