Recently, an irate physician contacted me asking that we remove a poor rating we had posted. She complained that our ratings are anonymous; therefore, we don’t even know if the one rating was from an actual patient. She is right on that point — we can never be 100 percent sure that a real patient for that particular doctor filled out the survey.
There are advantages and disadvantages of anonymous ratings, and one disadvantage that has been pointed out to me on several occasions is that an anonymous rating might not be from an actual patient. A competing doctor, an angry ex-spouse or any hooligan could complete the survey. On the other hand, a physician can complete an overly optimistic survey on him or herself.
While we can not guarantee that erroneous ratings will not occur, there are great advantages to anonymous ratings. Anonymity allows patients a greater degree of freedom to say what they really think. If patients had to identify themselves, some of those who had something negative to say might feel stifled or intimidated. This limitation is abrogated, at least somewhat, by how much patients tend to love their doctors and say positive things about their experiences with their physician.
In addition, legal protections about health information (HIPAA rules) may be less of an issue when patients don’t identify themselves. These heath information protection rules also make it impossible for physicians to publicly disagree with a patient about a specific aspect of their rating. Admittedly, this ties the hands of the physicians and makes online comments about physicians an unbalanced, one-sided affair.
I strongly believe that the benefits of online anonymous ratings far outweigh the risks. The ability of physicians to obtain feedback from patients through this easy, low-cost method also enables them to show the public how happy patients are — by and large — with their doctors.
At DrScore, we find very little evidence that phony ratings are a problem. However, keep in mind that when a doctor has just a few ratings — particularly if they only have one rating — the overall rating may not be truly representative. The patient satisfaction ratings average for doctors on DrScore with 20 or more ratings is consistently high — an 8.9 out of 10. So when you are reviewing a doctor’s scores, please look carefully at the number of ratings and interpret the data accordingly.
If a doctor does have a low score that they feel isn’t representative, I feel the best solution is for the doctor to simply ask a few patients to give their honest opinions on the DrScore site. We’ll give the doctor the resulting feedback, too. If the doctor is already doing everything perfectly, he or she will get a great score. But if the feedback shows the doctor something he or she can do even better, what a great gift that is to the physician!