I‘m sitting down one night reviewing the credentials of a physician I know to be a duplicitous character who was just arrested for allegedly selling prescription pain medications, opiates, to any drug seeker who could pay him. He was well known to doctors and hospital administrators to be a meretricious fellow and yet, if you read the patient reviews posted on any number of physician review sites, you might get the impression that he was an “excellent doctor” and a “dedicated physician”.
I continued to review physicians I know to be gaming the system and hurting patients, and yet many of them received spectacular ratings from their patients. I wondered how this could be, for about five seconds, until I realized these docs were likely working these on-line rating services as much as they were taking advantage of their patients and gaming the healthcare system.
There are many doctor rating sites on-line that appear to generate revenue through ads placed on the site or by a fee doctors pay so that they can be a sponsored or recommended physician.
I decided to go to these sites and began with www.Healthgrades.com. They claim to be the leading independent health care ratings company. I went to my name, typed in my review of myself (gave myself a good rating) and noted it posted shortly after. Hmm.
I then went to another site called Vitals.com. I posted a review of myself to see if this was at all vetted. I wrote, “Born in upper Mongolia, he lived with the chimps for one hundred years. Then after a bite from a snake he was transformed into a man from Brooklyn. Use caution on all these sites.” A few moments later my review was posted.
UComparehealthcare.com is another site where anyone, that likely includes friends or even the doctor, can post whatever they wish, even if they never visited the doctor. And again, this site collects revenue from physicians who wish to be a “featured” doctor.
Zocdoc.com provides reviews of physicians who sign a contract with them. Doctors that pay for this service are featured on their site and patients can even book appointments directly through Zocdoc. If a physician does not subscribe, he is not featured — it costs $250 dollars a month to be a featured physician. I spoke to a representative at this site who told me that a doctor “was not required to be board certified in his field to be recommended.” In my opinion, the first question any patient should ask is whether a physician is board certified, and if the answer is no — consider another option.
One good thing about Zocdoc.com, in my opinion, is that even though featured doctors are suggested because they pay a hefty fee, and not because of their credentials or quality of care, it appears to be one of the few sites where patient reviews are actually vetted and certified by their staff. In one review, even though the doctor was a client and paying his hefty fee, I did notice critical and quite derogatory reviews; one of which included the following: “absolutely horrible. my xrays were taken as soon as I got there but then they sent me back in the waiting room for 3 hours!! This process was done for everyone. There were a ton of people in the waiting room and every time someone asked the receptionist how much longer, he told them 15-20 minutes (which was a complete lie). do not waste your time here!!”
Doctor rating sites appear to be a useful tool for naïve people who are searching for a qualified physician, but there is no vetting of patient recommendations and sometimes the worst and most dangerous physicians appear to be the best. For most of these sites, all any physician needs to do, and it seems many have, is to either ask friends to post great reviews for them or even post their own review.
As for the review at www.vitals.com, I was not born in Mongolia and I did not live with chimps for one hundred years, but I am from Brooklyn.
Dr. Evan S. Levine is a cardiologist in New York and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center – Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is also the author of the book “What Your Doctor Won’t (or can’t) Tell You”. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and children.