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Physician Review Sites: Here to Stay, Despite Concerns

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Discussing a recent brouhaha about a physician review site. Can you trust anonymous consumer ratings? What does the future hold?

Last week, the healthcare blogosphere saw a telling debate about the issues surrounding online physician rating.

The brouhaha started with a report about a certain physician review site receiving a threatening legal letter from Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), asking to remove anonymous comments they described as "clearly defamatory".

Of course, the request was refused, but that is not all.

The professional community is waking up to the fact that personal opinions of consumers are being aired online, anonymously and in a highly structured way. These opinions are made readily available and searchable and are starting to affect reputations, or perceptions thereof. Brave New World indeed and legal threats will not stop it.

But here is the really notable part!

Rita Schwab, a professional in medical credentialing, who writes MSSP Nexus Blog, suggested that this type of sites will become mainstay in the credentialing process and she is right! Dr. RW responds with a very valid point of concern:

Well, that’s scary----opening up the credentialing process to last week’s disgruntled drug seeker or patients of this ilk. Heck, why not just invite ‘em to attend the credentials committee? By any reasonable standard the evidentiary quality of sites like this is somewhere below garbage in this blogger’s opinion.

He is right! Doctor rating sites we have today are garbage!

Anonymous review without any kind of accountability invites abuse and should not be trusted. People who are most motivated to use these types of services have an axe to grind. Rita posted a reply to Dr. RW and notes that it is key to consider the source:

I agree with much of what you say about sites like RateMDs. The potential for abuse and unfair attack is considerable.


Credentialers request numerous references, and often perform a general internet search on a physician's name to see what appears. They, and the medical staff leadership that review credentials applications "consider the source" of all those items.

However this does not change the fact that there is huge pent up demand for consumers to hear from other consumers. As another commenter (anonymous by the way!) retorts to Dr. RW:

My assumption is that you are a Medical Doctor. I am not, call me a consumer. If one needs the help of an unknown medical doctor it would be nice to have a way of establishing some credentials but there is nothing. The website appearing is a start. It can, of course, be srutinized by the Medical Doctors themselves and if there is something not right it will be removed. A quick glance shows that the majority gets very good ratings so that is a plus.

So here is the silver lining in a few bullet points:

  • Consumer demand for peer-to-peer physician rating information is not going away and will be fulfilled.
  • No matter how it is done, the implications of any review by consumers will no doubt be disturbing to many doctors.
  • Legal threats will accomplish nothing. Of course except for hanging their originators in the court of public opinion.
  • None of the existing review sites have done enough to earn trust and credibility, as Dr. RW rightly points out.
  • This does not mean it cannot be done in a way friendly to physicians, helping rather than hurting.

"Consumer Generated Media" (CGM) is here to stay and doctors need to prepare to use it to their advantage.

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Comments (14)

Submitted by hgstern on Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:32pm.

As a long-time proponent of transparency in health care, this seems to me to be a positive development.

As a consumer, I've often found it difficult (at best) to get unambiguous information about one provider from another. This seems to me to be a variation  on the review process. That is, honest, forthright information from actual consumers, as opposed to dry, uninformative bullet-points from the providers themselves.

Of course, consumers will have to be comfortable assessing which reviews are accurate, as opposed to those which come from folks with unrealistic expectations, or who didn't listen carefully to the providers advice/explanation.

Perhaps there could be another layer inserted here: some kind of patient moderator who could ascertain which was which.

Something to consider.

Submitted by hippocrates on Tue, 11/21/2006 - 1:48am.

Amazon process is a good first step to conceptualize this.

However, as we heard so many times, healthcare is way more complex. Compared to books, the difference is that stakes are higher and the difference between professional and consumer opinion is real. Plus way more reasons for malicious behavior.

The key is to design a rating system that achieves the right balance between consumer and professional perspectives. To my knowledge nothing like this exists yet.

But never fear, that will happen!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/30/2006 - 8:01pm.

I came upon your column in the course of seeking information on a doctor for my wife.  Upon reading your column it occurs to me that I would much rather read an evaluation created by knowledgable medical professionals than one created by patients.  However, I don't believe such an evaluation exists or that it would be available to the public if it did.  So I believe you are correct in stating that consumer ratings will become common practice simply because of the demand and the ease of providing them on the internet.

Submitted by Naomi on Sat, 12/30/2006 - 9:21pm.

Thought I'd add my two cents about rating Docs or any other person hanging
out a shingle to practice something on the public.

First, I would agree that the information currently made available about
Docs is pretty worthless. Why not give us some basic facts-like infection rates
and numbers of surgeries, general hospital acquired infection rates in
hospitals, legal action taken against Docs and internal hospital action taken
against Docs. But we need to remember that physicians are very poor about
policing their own peers. And hospitals don't want most useful information
released. What is released is hard to find and almost worthless after all the
pre-digestion it has gone through.

Second, who better to judge the quality of a Doc than the patients? They may
not know if his technique is superior (you can check on-line for standards of
care for many conditions), but you know if he listens, cares, treats you with
respect, suggests second opinions or specialists as needed, washes his hands,
and his office is pleasant non- stressed.

It is sad but true usually those with an axe to grind are the loudest, but
there maybe a reason worth looking at behind that grinding.

The next best group to ask about Docs is the nursing profession. They will
at the least tell you who they would go to or not go to. You won’t find them
making specific comments on line, so these you have to ferret out in person.


Naomi Giroux M.Ed., RN

Health Educator, Radio Show Host, Author

Submitted by Steve Beller PhD on Thu, 01/04/2007 - 7:31am.

Yes, there are huge problems with current day rating systems. While Naomi's suggestions are useful and valuable, the only valid and reliable way to accomplish this kind of transparency in the long run is through scientifically sound outcomes research based on comprehensive data from providers and patients collected in everyday clinical practice for entire episodes of care. These data should be used to give comparative performance feedback to providers in a way that supports continuous quality improvement (CQI), as well as used by researchers to establish, evaluate, and evolve evidence-based guidelines. Unfortunately, our country continues to be focused on short-sighted quick-fixes for a complex problem requiring vision, wisdom, and major systemic transformation.

Steve Beller, PhD

#6: Hello!
Submitted by Matthias (not verified) on Thu, 01/04/2007 - 12:04pm.


Simple question: how to find a doctor? A good doctor.

Submitted by pvonhendy (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2007 - 11:37am.

When I take one of my cars into a dealership for service, I am usually sent a "Customer Satisfaction Survey" to fill out and send back.  In this way, the auto manufacturers can make sure their dealerships are fulfilling their obligations to their customers and representing the manufacturers in a good light.

Too bad there is not something similar for physicians.  If hospitals, at least, would do something like this, I believe it would greatly improve the quality of healthcare, or at least healthcare provider/patient relationships.  The hospital administrators could look over patient survey forms and discuss concerns with the health care professionals involved.  The healthcare professionals would then have a chance to defend themselves against patients who merely have an axe to grind.  Furthermore, the administrators who collect and review the patient surveys could see if there is a common theme among several reviews and, in that way, determine if there really is a problem with either the facility or a particular healthcare professional.

Obviously, this doesn't give consumers a place to look up reviews, unless the hospitals choose to make the information public (which is highly unlikely), but it would make hospitals more accountable to those consumers.  The other problem is that it would not address those healthcare providers who are in private practice.  Of course, they could do the same.  And it would certainly benefit the healthcare providers to be able to publish glowing patient survey reports!

Submitted by pvonhendy (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2007 - 11:54am.

In searching further for physician review sites, I just found a really good one that allows doctors to respond to posted patient reviews.  They may be the one who was sued.  They certainly handle potential legal threats with good humor.

Check it out:

Submitted by Anne (not verified) on Mon, 04/02/2007 - 4:27pm.

I am a consumer of health care, not a professional in the field. Basically it seems that consumers go to these websites and post their review to say only glowing, positive things or to complain bitterly about a physician. Neither is particularly helpful.

I'm in agreement that major changes need to take place before physicians can be assessed in any meaningful way. In our current environment, it seems that it will only hurt a physician  to have honest, open communication with a patient, the threat of lawsuits is so overwhelming.

As I used to work in the insurance industry, I also feel qualified to say that managed care is not helping the situation at all.

Submitted by Jocye (not verified) on Wed, 08/01/2007 - 11:06am.


I have used two sites ( and (healthgrades) in the past. I found mdnationwide offered doctor ratings based on internal factual information. Where as healthgrades allowed patients to grade/rate their doctors, then used that data (free) to allow consumers access too. While was more expensive (double) however they seemed to offer much more in-depth relevant information on the two physicians i requested.

Submitted by (not verified) on Mon, 02/18/2008 - 8:56pm.


After reading your comment, I decided to try

Unfortunately, I was not impressed with their service. They did not provide any more information about the surgeon who was going to operate on my ankle. I found the same information (more detailed/ accurate) on his brief profile on the website for an organization that he is part of.

I tried calling several times to speak to them, and all I got was their answering machine. I've left messages, and they never got back to me.

I finally called American Express and they were gracious enough to credit me back the charge. Amex said that they were not going to dispute the charge with mdnationwide since it's not a significant amount of money.

I've written about all this in more detail on:

If someone else had a different experience with or found a n excellent doctor review site, please let me know.


Submitted by James (not verified) on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 10:41am.

Consumers need to take back control of their patient satisfaction, and as in other industries,
only the consumer can effect change. So in the case of, patients
rate their doctor based on waiting room times, total wait time including the
time in the patient room with the doctor, and a simple rating of 1 to 5, 5 being
the highest on how satisfied they were with that appointment. The ratings are
averaged out, so one poor score does not hurt the doctor, but on the other hand,
various poor ratings may indicate poor performance by the doctor, since the
wisdom of crowds determine a more accurate assessment of the

Submitted by why outsourcing (not verified) on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 11:09am.

In my country you pay lots of money and you get in change the "pleasure" of waiting couple hours in front of the door and after this to be treated in the most horrible mode by the doctor you paid. It's not fare !

Submitted by David (not verified) on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 6:00pm.

This article sounds like FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt). Yes, review sites - welcome to the 21st century. The last vestiges of the old way of doing things is finally hitting long-insulated professions such as real estate and medicine. It sounds like the profession that uses terms borrowed from a dead language to keep the public in the dark is having a hard time dealing.

About the "axe to grind" FUD: most consumers are smart enough to see through an unfair review, as people that are either not too bright or unethical tend to easily incriminate themselves. On the other hand, it's easy to see through a shill as well. So doctors, if a patient is not wise enough to spot the B.S., do you really want them coming to see you?

In addition, as James mentioned above, ratings are averaged, so the more ratings, the more accurate the score. Perhaps the reason the sites are meh at this time is because one single site hasn't risen enough in the public's mind to gather a large amount of the public's reviews. Most sites have between 5-10 at best.

Have you people been using Amazon? When I go to, I look at the good reviews and I look at the bad. Sometimes the bad reviews have valid points, and sometimes it's easy to see that the reviewer missed some important concepts key to the book. In addition, if the reviewer can't put a sentence together, you can more or less gage the reviewer's comprehension level. Sometimes a bad review actually has the opposite intended effect and makes me want to buy the book, as the reviewer reason's for disliking the book are reasons for me to like it. In any case, the author is given a chance to respond.

This is the same way with . You can often spot the trouble makers. At the same time, if a frequent complaint is told in different ways by 10 different people, you can more or less deduce that there's something behind it. And you also see the apartment management responding on the web site.

Of course, with patient privacy laws, the issue is a little thornier for doctors if a public complaint is being placed against them and they want to respond on the site. But perhaps there is a way for doctors to respond on these review sites without mentioning the patient specifically (such as talking about standard procedures and practices).

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