By Kris McFalls
Thanks in large part to the Internet, there is a consumer rating system for just about any product or service you wish to purchase. Consumers can quickly increase profits or torpedo a business into submission with a few simple strokes of the keyboard. The current economic climate and the ever skyrocketing costs of healthcare, have made rating doctors particularly popular. Everyone, it seems, wants to rate doctors — supposedly on the premise of improving quality of care. The simple truth is, however, that although some of the doctors deserve the feedback, be it good or bad, many rating systems are really about the all mighty dollar and have little to do with quality of care.
Insurance companies want to rate doctors based on how many tests they order; the more tests, the lower the rating. Malpractice attorneys want to rate doctors based on how many tests they don’t order; the fewer the tests, the higher the lawsuit. Hospitals rate doctors by the number of patients they can squeeze into their schedules. Government wants to rate doctors by getting them to prescribe cheaper drugs and correlate that with improved care. Many online rating systems rate doctors based on unverified, anonymous comments, and then charge a subscription fee for access to the content. Other rating systems that give awards to doctors have, in some cases, been criticized for being more of a popularity contest than a contest based on skill and patient satisfaction. And, while these are very broadly based statements that don’t tell the whole story, the simple truth is: The only people who have little or no say in how they are rated are the doctors themselves!
It’s understandable and wise for patients to check out doctors before they agree to spend hundreds of dollars for a few moments with someone who could greatly impact their quality of life. But, it’s nearly impossible to conduct an Internet search using a doctor’s name without a multitude of doctor rating sites popping up. In fact, it’s difficult to conduct any Internet search at all without first weeding through all of the sites that pay for prime search engine placement. Internet searches have largely become one massive ad campaign where the prize goes to the highest bidder. Like an auction, treasures can be found; but the Internet is a place where searchers need to beware in order to avoid buyer’s remorse.
Many doctors vehemently oppose Internet-based rating systems. In response, some doctors now require patients to sign a waiver promising they won’t post comments about them or their treatment on websites. If patients refuse to sign the waiver, they can be refused service. Recently, 35,000 doctors in California withdrew their participation from Blue Shield’s new blue ribbon rating system. The doctors did this because they felt they lacked control of many of the factors used in the rating system. In July 2010, the American Medical Association sent a letter to several major insurers protesting those carriers efforts to steer patients towards their preferred list of doctors that insurers claim give the best care for the lowest cost.
Healthcare consumers have a right to transparency, especially when deciding how to best spend their precious resources to maximize their healthcare outcomes. Doctors have a right to not have their reputation ruined by unscrupulous agencies they have no connection with or patients who have received good care but still blame them for a bad outcome. Obviously, these new rating systems need a lot of tweaking before any of them can be considered reliable when it comes to healthcare. Regardless, if there was not a demand, there would not be a market. So, it seems at this point, rating systems are not going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, patients need to do what they have always done: Take what others say with a grain of salt, do your homework and judge for yourself.
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