Friday, March 9, 2012

You Tell me Your Story and I will tell you Mine

 

The Web Is Awash in Reviews, but Not for Doctors. Here’s Why.

The New York Times in its 'Money' section attempts to analyze the failure of Web based physician review sites. They attempt to equate sites such as Zagat, Yelp, Angieslist, and others to physician review sites.

 

Companies have tried to collect reviews of doctors since the early days of the Web, and RateMDs.com has gathered more than most. The founder, John Swapceinski, was inspired to create it after his success with a site called,Other doctors have taken matters into their own hands. Writing in the online magazine Slate n 2008, Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, of the prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, gleefully recounted his creation of fake reviews on a couple of sites.

These physicians are probably outliers, though. The American Medical Association speaks for most doctors. Robert Mills, a spokesman, sent me a statement that he said was from the A.M.A.’s president, Dr. Peter W. Carmel, that read, in part, “Anonymous online opinions of physicians should be taken with grain of salt and should not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician.”

Companies have tried to collect reviews of doctors since the early days of the Web, and RateMDs.com has gathered more than most. The founder, John Swapceinski, was inspired to create it after his success with a site called RateMyProfessors.com, which is well known for the “hotness” rating that college students assign (or not) to their teachers.

But getting in the faces of the previously untouchable professional class has inevitably led to legal threats. He says he gets about one each week over negative reviews and receives subpoenas every month or two for information that can help identify reviewers, who believe they are posting anonymously.

None of the litigants at Angie’s List have been doctors so far, but that doesn’t mean they are thrilled with her health reviews. “They told me that ‘patients aren’t smart enough to figure out whether I’m a good doctor,’ ” she said. “But I told them that these conversations have been happening all along.” The only difference with the site, she pointed out, is that the doctors get to listen in.

Other doctors have taken matters into their own hands. Writing in the online magazine Slate in 2008, Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, of the prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, gleefully recounted his creation of fake reviews on a couple of sites.

These physicians are probably outliers, though. The American Medical Association speaks for most doctors. (authors note: The AMA represents only about 160,000 doctors out of 850,000 doctors in the United States ) Robert Mills, a spokesman, sent me a statement that he said was from the A.M.A.’s president, Dr. Peter W. Carmel, that read, in part, “Anonymous online opinions of physicians should be taken with grain of salt and should not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician.”

The question of privacy and confidentiality are uppermost in healthcare providers minds and the patient's rights are codified in the HIPAA law protecting their information. Turning the other shoe, what would patients reactions be if physicians rated their patients individually and posted it on the web? Of course physicians are prohibited from doing so. What's good for the goose may also be good for the gander.

Word of mouth is another matter where an individual patient does not recommend a particular doctor or may remark to another person that they did not like the physician in question. Publishing opinions in a public forum without concrete evidence is merely opinion. disclaimers opens one to libel and slander actions. Ranking 1-5 in different categories is vague and is not “standardized” as to what is a 1, 2,3,4, or 5.

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