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My Doctor Gets 3 Stars? 2 Thumbs Up? B+?

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"A lot of sites gave stars, but I didn't really know what those stars meant." - Jennifer Stevens, Prepared Patient feature article, Using Physician Rating Websites, December 2011

Physician and hospital rating sites are all over the web, with over 50 sites now offering reviews. Though, as Michelle Andrews reports, it's clear why some doctors may feel queasy about the idea of being 'graded.' One bad, anonymous review can threaten their reputations. In addition, some reviews don't get beyond the "feel-good" aspects of a clinical experience. However, a recent study examining 386,000 anonymous physician ratings posted on RateMD.com found that the average physician quality rating was 3.93 out of 5, which is pretty good. So should physicians and hospitals let go of their worries?

Michael Kirsch, MD of MD Whistleblower values more access to ratings including patient satisfaction scores.'  Kirsch recommends Hospital Compare, a website that provides information from hospitals who voluntarily submit data on readmissions and complications as well as patients' ratings. These scores are important, Kirch says, not because they are tied to hospital reimbursements but because 'these data can be extremely useful to our profession. They can shake us up and encourage us to reflect and improve."

But hospital ratings can have little use for people facing a medical emergency, says Jordan Rau, a Kaiser Health News reporter, in an interview with Trudy Lieberman. People may be in a hospital because of immediate problems that don't allow for comparison shopping or people may be directed to certain hospitals based on other factors like insurance coverage, geographic convenience or the hospital's reputation.

CFAH President Jessie Gruman echoes this concern in Rhetoric Ahead of Reality: Doctor Ratings Not Useful Yet: 'I remain dubious that many of us will ever rise up from our sickbeds, postpone getting our broken arms set or take the time when seeking a primary care clinician to conduct the type of research such articles recommend before we consult a new doctor. After all, we tend not to believe that the quality of our health care varies much and we trust physicians above other professionals.

However, Gruman urges hospitals, practice administrators and clinicians to "learn to love patient ratings" because of their potential to capture the extent to which medical practices invite patients to participate in their care. Though they don't completely assess our engagement, Gruman says, 'Patient experience surveys provide critical intelligence for hospitals, plans and practices as you work to improve patient outcomes. These scores indicate to you whether it is remotely likely that those of us treated in your facility by your clinicians will be willing to risk joining in the effort to end our discomfort and return us to a life without illness. And they show you where to target your efforts to increase that likelihood.

 

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Conversation Continues feature ongoing discussions or news on current health topics with links to related materials.  They are part of the Center for Advancing Health’s portfolio of free, evidence-based coverage of what it takes to find good care and make the most of it.


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