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Here’s DrScore’s latest press release on why physicians and patients should be thankful for online doctor ratings:

Three Reasons Physicians (and Patients) Can Be Thankful for
Online Doctor Ratings

DrScore:Online rating is here to stay … a few reasons why you can accept it with grace.’

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Nov. 16, 2010) – Online doctor ratings continue to generate controversy among physicians, and in the news and blogosphere. But proponents and opponents do agree on one thing: The ability to rate your doctor online is here to stay. Thus, the month of Thanksgiving is a great time to highlight three reasons why doctors and patients should be thankful for this method of providing feedback.

“Rating your doctor or searching for a doctor online is the 2010 version of asking your neighbor for or providing your neighbor with a recommendation — they expand our ability to find out about other people’s experiences,” says patient satisfaction expert Steve Feldman, M.D, the founder of DrScore.com. “Online rating is here to stay — here’s a few reasons why you can accept it with grace.”

No. 1: Every aspect of the clinical encounter is important for patients and physicians.

Yes, the technical medical process — whether the doctor is making the right diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment — is critical to the medical experience. But if the patient sees a shabby office, has a long wait, or feels like the physician is uncaring and dismissive, it can affect the patient’s experience and how well he or she responds to the prescribed treatment.

“I receive quarterly reports that provide constructive feedback on every aspect of the clinical encounter — from parking access to nursing to the actual visit. This allows me to concentrate on areas in which I may need to improve upon,” says Andrew D. Lee, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in Elkin, N.C. “Early in my career, I received a report in which several patients commented that I did not allow them to participate in developing their treatment plans. Because of this, I immediately began involving my patients in choosing topical vehicles and discussing the benefits and risks of oral medications I prescribed.”

No. 2: Online ratings provide more medical transparency.

Patient access to meaningful information about health care quality is important to highlight both the positive and the negative aspects of health care, according to Dr. Feldman. “Doctors have nothing to fear and much to gain from transparency. It allows patients to see the strong work of physicians and helps physicians do what they want to do most, which is making the medical experience even better.”

Much of the controversy surrounds what should be considered “meaningful information.” For example, one-sided derogatory comments by patients who may have had a negative medical experience are not as meaningful as scientifically validated data that is collected and analyzed. “Constructive feedback is useful, but comments that are hurtful can do more harm than good, especially if they are taken out of context or are one-sided,” says Dr. Lee. “I believe one of DrScore’s strengths is that people who search for a physician on this site only have access to the doctor’s averaged scores, which they may use to objectively compare with other rated physicians.”

Still, doctors may be hesitant to ask patients to rate them online because they are concerned that an isolated criticism from an anonymous source will skew the score. Dr. Feldman feels strongly that the importance of allowing patients to remain anonymous outweighs any negatives. “Anonymity allows patients a greater degree of freedom to say what they really think,” he says. “If patients had to identify themselves, some of those who had something negative to say might feel stifled or intimidated. But it’s important to note that when a doctor has just a few ratings — particularly if they only have one rating — the overall rating may not be truly representative.”

That is why it is important for doctors to ask all their patients to contribute feedback online — and for all patients to consider rating their doctors, according to Dr. Lee.  “The more feedback you receive, the more valuable that feedback is, and the more truly representative a doctor’s score is. This is a benefit to both doctors and patients.”

No. 3: Obtaining and utilizing patient feedback effectively will help control costs and improve health care.

Patient satisfaction has an impact on overall health care costs, according to Dr. Feldman. “Patients who are more satisfied with their doctors are more likely to go in for care or see their doctors at their office before they get sicker and have to be treated in a more expensive setting, such as the emergency room,” he says. “In addition, they are more likely to take their prescribed medications and follow other physician recommendations.”

Online doctor rating provides physicians with a valuable means of assessing the quality of the services they provide. In addition, they provide patients with the ability to be active participants in their health care experience by voicing their opinions and choosing their physicians on the basis of more objective criteria than traditional advertising and word-of-mouth.

“Patients deserve to be treated by physicians who provide excellent medical care in a compassionate and respectful manner,” Dr. Lee says. “The doctor rating websites that provide fair and balanced feedback are important in ensuring continuous quality improvement in our clinical practices.”

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I very much enjoy reading Dr. Kevin Pho’s articles.  Today I read his article, “Online doctor ratings aren’t very helpful” online in USA Today. He asks, “Can patients reliably choose a good doctor online?”

I guess one could ask a simpler question, “Can patients reliably choose a good doctor?”  I think the answer to that question is an unequivocal “yes!”  There are great doctors all across the United States.  Does online information help?  The answer again is “yes, certainly.”

State medical boards across the country give people information on doctors’ training and malpractice judgments. The American Board of Medical Specialties gives the public information on doctors’ board certification online, too, at abms.org. (To learn more about the ABMS, listen to ABMS president Dr. Kevin Weiss on the Getting Better Health Care radio program.

Then, there is the question of online doctor rating sites.  Online rating could be a powerful tool, and Dr. Pho makes a great point that doctors should encourage their patients to do online ratings.  Over 1,000 doctors are already encouraging their patients to do online ratings at www.DrScore.com, and, as Dr. Pho rightly notes, the average doctor with 20 or more ratings has a rating of over 9 out of 10.  That’s right, the average doctor—average—is a 9.3 out of 10.  Even “below average doctors” are still very, very good doctors when it comes to patient satisfaction.

Working in medicine, that doesn’t surprise me, because every day I see doctors with an extraordinary commitment to training, to skills and to giving patients great medical care.

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A recent  AMA News article pointed out that most doctors can’t yet access medical records through their smart phone.

Wow …  I remember using a slide rule, needing a dime and a pay phone to make a telephone call, and being amazed at the new technology that allowed me to make a call by pressing buttons instead of turning a dial. Technology is advancing so fast that  it seems we have come to take for granted that we should have instant access to all sorts of information — even medical records.

Today, a friend gave me a sheet of little happy face stickers.  I wanted to get more, so I looked up the catalog number printed on the sheet, found them on Google in about 26 seconds, and had ordered them within two  minutes.  Amazing.  I’m sure it won’t be long before I can look up a patient’s lab test results — better yet, a graph of their current and past lab test results — within seconds from anywhere in the world.

It’s exciting to be a part of technological advances.  At DrScore.com, we make information on doctors easily available and accessible — right at  your fingertips.  You can search for doctors in your area by specialty, get their contact information and even see how they’ve been rated.  And how much does all this cost?  It’s free.

Ah, the modern world.  It may not be perfect, but we should count our blessings.

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I received an advertisement from a doctor rating Web site claiming that anonymous feedback is “Internet graffiti.”

That’s one way to look at it.  But in an area that can be as sensitive and private as medical care, giving patients the opportunity to give doctors feedback anonymously has the advantage of letting patients feel more open about their responses.

Physicians worry about this,  and there are many articles and blogs that discuss how anonymous feedback opens the door and allows people to unfairly trash doctors’ reputations.

In theory, that is possible. But in practice, based on the data we’ve collected at DrScore.com, by and large patients rate their doctors highly.  At most visits doctors get a perfect 10 from their patients when rated on a scale of 0 to 10.

I hope more and more people are encouraged to get online and give their doctor a score.  Doctors’ reputations will benefit from the public seeing a representative sample of patients’ satisfaction scores. And the only way to get that representative sample is to encourage patients to go online and rate their doctors.

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The AMA News published a terrific article entitled, “Negative online reviews leave doctors with little recourse.”  The article describes inappropriate practices by one doctor rating site and the privacy limitations that prevent doctors from responding to negative reviews.  It certainly isn’t a level playing field.

I’m not sure the playing field needs to be completely level, but fairness ought to be expected.  Giving patients the right to freely publish their opinions isn’t a problem.  As readers of this blog know, our DrScore research finds that patients typically love their physicians. On the DrScore.com rating site, the average score of a doctor with 20 or more ratings is 9.3 out of 10.  Online physician rating Web sites that purposely advertise for or prominently display only negative ratings aren’t being fair and aren’t giving the public what they deserve: honest, representative feedback on doctors.

Transparency is good for patients and physicians.

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One of the issues with online doctor rating sites is that it is very much a one-sided affair.  In other businesses, if a customer made a complaint online, the business would be able to respond.  Not so on doctor ratings sites.  The patient privacy rules in the HIPAA legislation  preclude physicians from even acknowledging someone is their patient, so physicians have no ability to respond if they feel there is an inaccurate post about the care they offer.

This seems unfair to many physicians, and I do agree.  Fortunately, the vast, vast majority of patients are very, very happy with their doctors and their care.

The unlevel playing field problem is exacerbated by the possibility that someone with a personal grudge against a physician could purposefully try to harm the physician’s reputation.  It could be a competitor, an angry former spouse or a patient who felt vindictive for some reason.  While one advantage of an anonymous online feedback system is that it lets patients feel they can give fully open and honest feedback without risk of reprisal, anonymous systems have the potential for abuse, too.

Perhaps there could be a rules change that would let a physician respond if a patient opens the door to a discussion of the care they received. But I find that possibility to be unlikely, especially given all the benefits of strong rules about patients’ privacy.  Some physicians may consider other avenues, like those offered by Medical Justice.

But there is another approach, which  is to do what DrScore does: Don’t post open comments at all.

And actually, I think the best solution is to just get every patient to rate his or her doctor online.  That way, even if one patient does say something bad, the public can see what other patients think in order to determine if the negative comment was an outlier or was really representative of what the doctor was like.

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As the founder of one of America’s leading doctor rating Web sites, I’ve had many opportunities to talk to doctors about what they think of these sites.

As you might imagine, the opinions run from “what a horrible development this is” to “what a great idea.”

One thing I have  found is that no one seems to be bothered by a Web site that gives patients accurate information on doctors.  The doctors who don’t like the idea of these sites usually only express concern that the information may not be reliable.  They have a point.  Unless there are a lot of ratings, it is likely that the ratings could be skewed.

Because of that likelihood, some doctors come to the conclusion that these physician rating Web sites should be ignored or closed.  I take the opposite view.

The more people use these sites, the more representative the ratings will be.

If you’ve seen a doctor, fill out the brief DrScore survey at www.DrScore.com.  Help the public see a more representative sample of how doctors are doing.  If we can get that kind of sample, I don’t think doctors will have anything to be afraid of.

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