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The Use and Usefulness of Doctor Ratings


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"Do you rate your doctor?," wondered John Schumann in the Glass Hospital blog. He cited a February JAMA study which found that personal recommendations from family and friends were more influential than physician rating sites. Only 19 percent of respondents thought such sites were "very important." Convenient office location was the second most highly rated factor (59 percent), topped only by whether or not a provider accepted the respondents' health insurance.

Sadly, doctor rating information is still far from helpful or understandable. Two studies in Health Services Research found that online ratings don't help patients compare hospitals and that patients are loyal to their doctors despite performance scores. "There's a missed opportunity to provide those patients with more transparent and reliable information to better influence their decision-making," noted lead author of the first study, Kyan Cyrus Safavi, MD, MBA.

In her report on doctor report cards, Carol Cronin, the executive director of the Informed Patient Institute, highlighted a key roadblock: "Many of the doctor report cards report at the medical group level as opposed to reporting on the performance of the individual doctor. However, most patients and families have a relationship with a single doctor and perhaps the team of nurses, aides and other staff that support them. Until it is possible to verify that all of the care given by all the doctors in a group is equivalent, patients and families are going to want information about their own doctor or their potential surgeon. That's who cares for us, who we tell the details of our concerns to, and who lays his hands on us."

If online ratings aren't an effective method, how should people go about choosing a care provider? Reed Tuckson, MD, suggests that keeping one simple truth in mind can be helpful: All doctors are not created equal. Tuckson recommends that you then consider these three questions when making your decision:

  1. What are you looking for in a doctor?
  2. Have you ever communicated your expectations to your doctor?
  3. What criteria are you using?

Many people want their doctor to be nearby, competent and someone they are comfortable with. Other qualities may be important to you and your family when comparing doctors. These online resources can help you sort through what to consider:

  • The Choosing a Doctor guide from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has several questionnaires to help you with a doctor search.
  • Choosing a Family Doctor from the American Academy of Family Physicians. This guide can help you choose a doctor who can treat your whole family.

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Tags for this article:
Health Information Technology   Find Good Health Care   Inside Healthcare   Patient Engagement  

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