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    Going Online to Learn What Others Think of Your Doctor

    By Lisa Zamosky

    Woman Using Computer

    When it comes to buying a product or service, many of us take to the internet for information about whether what we’re about to buy is worth the money. Increasingly, consumers want to read other people’s reviews as part of their information gathering process.

    Shopping for a doctor seems to be no exception.

    Surveys have shown that patients want to see other people’s reviews of doctors just as much as they do of restaurants or products they might search for on sites like Yelp or Amazon.

    In fact, according to a 2011 study of internet use among health care consumers by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than 40% of adults have consulted online reviews about doctors, hospitals, drugs, or medical treatments.

    Among the biggest physician rating sites today are RateMDs, Vitals, Healthgrades, and Angieslist. And, recently, the consumer ratings granddaddy of them all, Consumer Reports, came out with a Patient Experience Ratings of primary care physician groups, though just in Massachusetts.

    What You’ll Find Online

    Each of the sites operates a bit differently, but generally, you’ll find ratings that include other users’ experiences with office staff, the doctor’s punctuality, the physical environment, and how easy or difficult it was to make an appointment, among other details.

    Often, the sites provide background information about the doctor, such as licenses, certifications, and specialties. And many offer consumer-friendly information intended to help patients figure out what kind of doctor they need, and how best to navigate their visit with articles about how to prepare before seeing the doctor and the kinds of questions you should to ask once you’re there.

    “We try to go from helping you find a doctor to helping you prepare to see one,” says Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals, a website for finding and making doctor appointments, as well as finding patient reviews.

    Rothschild says patients often feel a high degree of anxiety when they’re at the point of looking for a good doctor. You’re sick [and want to know]: who is the right person? Will this bankrupt me?  We try to be an anxiety reducer,” he says.

    Vitals goes to great lengths to provide consumers with a broad range of information about doctors. According to Rothschild, the site pulls in data from 200 different sources, including information from each of the 50 United States, such as board certification status or history of malpractice payouts, to paint as complete a picture as possible about the physician’s background and current professional standing. You’ll find ratings and consumer reviews on doctors, as well. Rothschild says about 70% of all doctors have been reviewed.

    Keeping Perspective

    When reviewing comments, it’s important to consider that what’s important to you may not be to everyone, and that reviews and ratings are but one piece of information consumers should use to decide about which health care provider to see.

    For that reason, Rothschild says about Vitals, “You can narrow a search by what’s important to you.” If you care more about how long you’ll have to wait to be seen by the doctor than you do about her bedside manner, for example, you can sort for that.

    Judging a Review

    So how do you know the doctor’s mother isn’t the only person who left the 15 stellar reviews you see online?

    On any site, Rothschild says, there will always be rogue people, such as the ex-partner who will write a nasty review, or the best friend of the doctor who writes nothing but glowing remarks. There are ways of keeping those tendencies in check.

    Vitals, for example, does not allow users to write more than one review per IP address, according to Rothschild. The site has filters in place that look for similar grammatical style and language. “Every review is looked at by a human eye. It’s not perfect but [we do] what we can to maintain it as best as possible,” Rothschild says.

    The Future of Physician Rating

    Physician ratings have been going up online at a growing rate over the past number of years, and there’s every indication the trend will continue.

    All of this, Rothschild says, is to help patients become smarter about their health care. “People need to become experts,” he says.

    Your Turn

    Have you gone online to see how your doctor is rated by other patients? Was it useful? Is this the kind of information you’d like to see more of in the future? Share your thoughts and comments below.

    Photo: iStockphoto

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