“I devoted most of my adult life working so that I can serve other patients in a professional and ethical manner, only to be attacked online by an anonymous person when they wrote ‘MONEY GRUBBER’ on a third-party online review website the day after the grand opening of my practice,” wrote Dr. Andrew Doan, a California ophthalmologist, in a recent commentary on www.studentdoctor.net, a popular site with new and future doctors.
Doan suspected a competing doctor left the review. it would have been unusual for one of his patients to call him a money grubber, he wrote, because he had spent most of his time at his new clinic working for free with Medical Rescue Mission patients. the experience left him with a bad impression of online patient reviews.
“the current online review system for doctors is severely unjust, broken, unregulated and horrible for doctors,” Doan wrote.
But like most online movements, physician reviews aren’t going away and always will be difficult to regulate. the good news for physicians: the reviews usually are positive.
An analysis of 15,000 patient ratings on the DrScore.com from 2004-2010 found the average physician rating was 9.3 out of 10, according to a study published in the November issue of Health Outcomes Research in Medicine. a full 70 percent of physicians had perfect scores.
“When you look at the responses from something like this, it gives you a signal that there doesn’t seem to be cause for so much concern,” said Rajesh Balkrishnan, associate director for research and education at the University of Michigan Center for Global Health and lead author of the study. “This takes into account responses from thousands and thousands of physician encounters, as opposed to a few isolated cases that attract a lot of attention.”
Some of the leaders of the S.C. Medical Association say online reviews are hardly on their radar screen.
“I suspect that certain consumer-driven specialties such as plastic surgery, laser eye surgery and vein centers may pay more attention,” said Dr. Bruce Snyder, a vascular surgeon in Greenville who doesn’t monitor his online ratings.
His patients might look him up online after their primary care physician refers them to him. they sometimes research the basics of his practice, his training and his board certification. but he doubts they get much more than those basics from the internet.
“I have found most sites to be outdated, with significant incorrect information, often listing deceased, retired or relocated physicians years after they are no longer in the listed practice,” Snyder said. “I believe most of the sites exist to create revenue for the site owner and are not well maintained.”
Even if they tried, patients might have trouble finding useful review information on physicians. few patients make the effort to review their doctors. There aren’t any reviews of Snyder on DrScore.com, and he has only a couple of reviews on the two sites that come up most often in Google searches – healthgrades.com (Snyder got 4 ½ stars out of 5 in his only review) and vitals.com (4 out of 4 stars in his only review).
Dr. Gerald Harmon of Pawleys Island had more reviews, as is typical of family practice physicians. Harmon’s four reviews on healthgrades.com averaged out to 4 of 5 stars, and his two ratings on vitals.com averaged 3 ½ of 4 stars.
Harmon believes word of mouth is still by for the most important factor for patients when looking for a family physician. and while practices could gain some guidance from online review complaints, Harmon’s practice prefers to do its own in-office patient surveys.
Their surveys came up with the same two top complaints found on most online review sites: Too long of a wait in the lobby and too long of a delay in getting an appointment. In fact, the DrScores.com study found the less time that patients spend in the waiting room and the more time they spend in the exam room with a physician, the higher the doctor’s rating.
Harmon’s practice reacted to its in-house survey by extending office hours until 7 p.m. three days a week to improve access.
Dr. Gregory Tarasidis, a plastic surgeon in Greenwood, got 4 ½ of 5 stars on three reviews on healthgrades.com, and he had no reviews on either DrScores.com or vitals.com.
“I do think more patients are looking (online),” Tarasidis said. “Occasionally a patient will refer to something they’ve read online in relation to you.”
Tarasidis said his practice pays attention to comments on review sites or Facebook, and someone might even try to contact an unhappy patient to remedy a problem.
Doan, the California ophthalmologist, recommends physicians be more proactive about online reviews to protect their reputations. because there are so few reviews of most doctors, one person with a bad experience (or a non-patient with an agenda) can make a physician look bad on review sites. Doan suggests physicians ask their patients to take the time to post reviews.
“When patients search for doctors on the internet, the two most influential things are the star rating and the number of reviews for a doctor,” Doan said. “the higher star rating and the higher number of reviews convey competence and value to patients.”
Dr. Bruce Bagley, medical director for quality improvement at the American Academy of Family Physicians, said physicians already work hard to improve the clinical part of their practices, and the high overall ratings show that. In addition to the DrScore.com study, 82 percent of respondents in a November Gallup poll indicated they received “good” or “excellent” health care.
Doctors should “focus on the customer service pieces where they probably are not making such great ratings,” Bagley told American Medical News last month. “things like always answering the phone, having open appointment scheduling and zero waiting times. We all have a ways to go on those customer service features.”