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03/09/2009

Who’s Scared of A Little Online Feedback? Doctors.

Professors have a website for it, so do plumbers. So why are physicians all up in arms over websites that would allow online ratings and feedback of patient experiences?

According to USA Today,

“Consumers and patients are hungry for good information” about doctors, but Internet reviews provide just the opposite, contends Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a North Carolina neurosurgeon who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism. Some sites “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices,” and their sniping comments can unfairly ruin a doctor’s reputation, Segal said.”

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Yet, expecting patients to evaluate a doctor’s medical skill is like asking a layperson to evaluate a plumber’s skill. The point of these websites is not to evaluate one’s technical expertise but to help other consumers be aware of problems in customer service or overall performance and to choose a professional based on that information.

Maybe the only factor some patients care about is the professional pedigree of their physician or his/her technical skill–but for a lot of patients bedside manner, the quality of the office staff, and the overall experience are just as important. This kind of feedback is precisely what these websites can and do provide.

Doctors who oppose these websites appear to fear this “democratization” of medicine where anyone can say anything about you, even if they just have an axe to grind–but what it really seems that they are upset over is public accountability. The website featured in the USA Today article, RateMDs.com, has a feature where users can disagree with any “libelous or erroneous” reviews. Moreover, if this provides physicians with even the tiniest incentive to make their practice or their own care any better, kinder or more efficient, then all the better for the patients in their care.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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