Using Online Doctor Review Sites

In today’s connected world, Americans are now quite accustomed to finding online ‘reviews’ for anything from restaurants to hotels to tow truck drivers and plumbers. Between Yelp, Foursquare, Goodsnitch, Google Reviews, Facebook, Twitter and scores of others, nearly every business that’s been operating for more than a year or so will have online reviews on some site or other… and doctors are no exception.

That said, Americans have been slower to embrace online doctor review sites, compared to sites focused on other industries like hospitality and contracting. More than 90 percent of Americans go on the Internet to research home purchases, according to information from the National Association of Realtors. But a Journal of the American Medical Association report finds that only about one in four Americans use similar sites to research physicians.

What to look for in a Doctor Ratings Site

Not all ratings sites are alike. In fact, some of them are much more useful than others. Sites vary widely when it comes to the quantity of information presented, how up-to-date it is, the number and quality of reviews.  The Institute of Informed Patients tracks a number of these sites and rates them on content, timeliness, presentation, ease of use, information to help readers make decisions, and any special features, positive or negative, that either help readers make informed health care decisions or hinder the process.

The IPI issues a letter grade from between A and F. If there’s a site that doesn’t quite fit under their criteria, they’ll give it a “U” grade, for “unique.”

To access these letter grades and select the best sites for your state, visit the IPI website, select your state and select the type of information you’re looking for. You can select from doctor report cards, nursing home report cards or hospital report cards.

Some top scorers include DoctorFinder, by the American Medical Association, STS Public Reporting Online, by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the Recognized Clinician Directory (NCQA). DocFinder, a project of the Association of State Medical Board Executive Directors, gets a U rating. Many state boards update their states’ site with disciplinary actions and malpractice settlements. All three are run by nonprofits and all three received “B” grades from the IPI.

Of the common for-profit doctor review sites and directories, RateMDs.com rated a “C” grade, as did the WebMD Physician Directory.

In addition to user-contributed reviews, the better online doctor scoring sites will make a good deal of practice and background information available on each doctor. For example, you may be able to find education and credentialing information, information on malpractice complaints, insurance plans accepted, Medicare/Medicaid acceptance, office hours and much more.

You may wish to take the online reviews with a grain of salt. Many in the medical profession express concerns that anonymous online reviews can be misleading. For example, if a doctor refuses to prescribe a narcotic to a known drug addict or drop a patient who refused to follow medical advice, that individual could log on and write a series of scathing reviews, even though the doctor may have acted entirely properly.

In sum, doctor scorecard sites can provide valuable information. But they should not be the only criteria you use to evaluate your physician.

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