Review Sites Still not Ready for Medical Prime Time?
The New York Times recently discussed an interesting problem in the medical (and patient) community: review sites that do a good job recommending fajitas and mojitos tend to fall flat when it comes to reviewing doctors.
The reasons for this problem are manifold, including a widespread reluctance among patients to describe personal details and a lack of objective criteria through which to evaluate the care they received. As a result, many such reviews tend to focus on subjective issues – the famous “bedside manner” – which, while extremely important, does not always correlate with better outcomes.
Some other issues compound the problem, including the fact that in many states doctors can’t reply to bad reviews. If a physician recognizes a reviewer and responds in kind, he or she could be violating confidentiality laws. (Patients are under no such restrictions.) Then there is the basic question of gravity: reviewing a doctor is wholly different from reviewing a local bar, and many patients do not trust sites that cover such an important topic through anonymous blurbs:
And while Yelp itself, along with its paid counterpart, Angie’s List, feature reviews of doctors and clinics, questions over just how reliable the information they provide is takes on greater significance when applied to something as important, and personal, as health care.
Word of mouth and professional credentials remain the most reliable indicators of a doctor’s skill, and asking fellow physicians is likely to yield some good insights as well. But until the online review sites solve their issues with anonymity and legality, you may just have to rely on your own instincts when reading, and take those Yelp reviews with a (doctor-prescribed) grain of salt.