c m a n e w s
“Basically, patients seem relatively happy with their doctors”
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,
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