winter 2012

c m a   n e w s
Rate-your-MD sites

 

“Basically, patients seem relatively happy with their doctors”


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There’s little doubt that many physicians loathe the online sites that allow patients to rate them anonymously. Some initial reports indicate that they may not be as hard on the medical profession as physicians suspect.

By Mr. Pat Rich

There’s little doubt that many physicians loathe the online sites that allow patients to rate them anonymously. During the CMA’s recent annual meeting, for example, an Ontario delegate complained that the sites spread “vexatious, hurtful dialogue.”

However, researchers are now starting to study these sites, and some initial reports indicate that they may not be as hard on the medical profession as physicians suspect.

During the recent 5th World Congress on Social Media, Mobile Apps, Internet/Web 2.0 at Harvard Medical School, the most comprehensive paper on the sites was presented by Dr. Guodong Gao (PhD) of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at the University of Maryland.

He and his colleagues analyzed patients’ online ratings on RateMDs.com over a five-year period. Although more than 60 physician-rating websites now exist, RateMDs.com was chosen for the analysis because of its growing popularity.

Gao’s analysis showed that 16% of US doctors had received an online review during the study period, with 46% of them receiving just one. The study also found that obstetrician/gynecologists were more than twice as likely to receive online reviews as other specialists.

The study suggests that the site is not dominated by disgruntled patients, since the average rating given to physicians (on a one-to-five scale) was 3.93. “Basically, patients seem to be relatively happy with their doctors,” Gao said.

A comparative analysis of patient ratings and the characteristics of 18,386 physicians in Virginia showed that board-certified physicians and those not facing a malpractice claim received better ratings. Another analysis of 1,425 primary care physicians in three US cities showed that doctors who scored highest in terms of patient-perceived quality were more likely to be rated online.

This rosy picture was challenged somewhat by findings from Europe. Dr. Uwe Sander from the University of Applied Sciences in Hanover, Germany, analyzed the content in popular English- and German-language websites and concluded the available information would not allow potential patients to assess physician competence adequately and should not be used to choose a doctor.

Martina Moick, an Austrian researcher, presented data from an assessment of 287 German physicians and their views on physician-rating sites. She said physicians are generally skeptical about their value, but were interested in online feedback.

The sites have also caught the attention of the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which discussed them in the September issue of CMPA Perspective in the article “The new realities of medical care”. “While most patients will provide a fair assessment of their experience, others may resort to these websites to convey dissatisfaction with the care received,” the article states. “It is understandable that rating websites may cause discomfort to physicians. While it may be tempting to ask patients to refrain from using such websites, this approach will likely invoke the opposite reaction. Ignoring these sites is also not advisable. Physicians should monitor what is being said about them.” The article concludes that MDs should encourage patients to discuss issues in person.

The CMPA wrote to the operator of RateMDs.com five years ago to warn that some postings on the site are considered defamatory under Canadian law, and the CMA wrote a letter supporting that position. – CMA News

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