Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Online Sites Rate Doctors While Doctors Hide Crucial Information from Patients

An online article in yesterday's Washington Post points to the growing popularity of websites where medical patients can rate their doctors and advise the public to use these doctors or "run as fast as you can" from them.
In the past five years more than 40 Web sites, among them RateMDs.com, Angie's List, Yelp, DrScore and Vitals.com (motto: "where doctors are examined"), have begun reviewing physicians, providing information about one of the more difficult and important decisions consumers make routinely. WaPost
Some doctors criticize these sites, saying that the aesthetics of an office and the demeanor of the doctor are not necessarily representative of the actual outcomes that people receive, which are most important.
"Not only can't patients judge doctors, other doctors can't judge doctors," Caplan added. Without knowing a doctor's mortality, complication and infection rates, rankings reveal "just a piece" of the data consumers require.

Levin agrees that outcomes data are badly needed, but he thinks ratings sites can be useful. "What you need to look for is consistency and a certain number of ratings," he said. "It's one piece of a total picture . . .
If doctors don't think they are objectively rated on these sites, then why don't THEY set up a public database to gather and publicize objective statistics about doctors, such as "a doctor's mortality, complication and infection rates," complaints registered against them, judgments, legal actions, fees or specific services, like consultations, and other crucial decision-making data?

The fact is that doctors are just as reluctant to accept public accountability for their practices as record labels are to allow their music to be downloaded for free. And so, in the case of doctors, consumers with First Amendment free speech rights have to step into the information vacuum.

Ironically, the United States Government is one of few in the developed world that does not even bother to gather statistics about the effectiveness of various treatments and medical devices, like artificial joints. So, these treatments and devices are sometimes on the market in the US long after their ineffectiveness and/or harmfulness have been proved statistically overseas.

The fact is, doctors as a community want to be held harmless for the damage they do, adamantly fighting the disclosure of formal complaints filed against them and the results of these complaints. They also have codes of conduct that prevent doctors from publicizing and advertising the cost of specific services, and this makes it impossible for patients to engage in comparison shopping.

Now, patients are providing for each other what doctors have refused to make public: news and views about doctors practicing medicine. If doctors don't like the sites set up by patients, they should set up better, more objective and more reliable sites that compare outcomes, prices, and other crucial information.

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