In the old days, patients could do little when physicians kept them waiting, blew-off their questions or seemed incompetent. A tale of woe over the phone to friends or family, or if things got really bad, a complaint to the state medical board was all they could muster.
The Internet has changed that. In the last 5 years, several dozen Web sites have cropped up where patients can post reviews of their physicians, and the chatter on such sites has been louder than the birds at Bodega Bay.
“The worst doctor I have ever encountered in my life,” ranted one consumer. “Impolite, unengaged and unfocused,” chirped another. “Long wait, rude staff, never sent me a follow-up on my tests.”
The most popular physician rating sites, according to the Washington Post, are RateMDs.com, DrScore, Yelp, and Vitals.com.
They support themselves via ad revenues from Google and they’ve become a force.
RateMDs.com for example, has ratings on more than 200,000 physicians and attracts a million unique visitors per month, not to mention the wrath of physicians.
“The people least capable of judging quality of care are patients,” argued Washington DC internist Nancy Falk. “They don’t know what we know.”
“Doctors aren’t like dishwashers or trash compactors or minivans,” agreed orthopedic surgeon Peter Lavine. The sites, he told the Washiington Post, “attract patients who have an axe to grind.”
Meanwhile, ethicist Arthur Caplan worries the sites don’t focus on care outcomes, which he insists is the most important consideration.
“One person’s brusque is another’s direct,” Caplan told the Post. “Many doctors who score well on ambiance are not good doctors… (I’ve seen) doctors who were well beyond the border of malpractice who kept going because patients loved them.”