USA Today op-ed: Online doctor ratings could be improved

My latest USA Today column was published today: Online doctor ratings aren’t very helpful.

Can patients reliably choose a good doctor online?

I briefly discuss the piece in the video below, along with a preview of the week’s posts on

An excerpt:

People already choose restaurants, movies, and their college professors based on what they read on the Internet, so it’s inevitable that many will research their doctors on the web as well.

But there are some good reasons consumers should be wary of the information they find online about doctors.

I also invite you to read the rest of my published opinion pieces. Enjoy.

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  • Davis Liu, MD

    There major problems with online rating sites as noted in your op-ed, however, there are some sites already available that are helpful.
    For those in California, the Office of the Patient Advocate – – rates medical groups on both quality measures (mammogram screening rates, immunizations, etc) as well as service (timely care, communication). Though not precise to the individual doctor, a medical group’s performance is dependent on each physician, so it is a reasonable proxy.
    Nationally, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, NCQA, has report cards on doctors – Recognition Directory – where doctors submit data on how they did on heart disease / stroke prevention, diabetes care, back care, and / or if they are wired technologically. This is specific to the individual. The program is voluntary. Nevertheless, those who are presumably the best would want the designation.
    Both are reasonable places to start.

  • r

    The issue with the article you have written is like many others, self serving. I would expect if you were selling plastics, medical divices, cars one could find a wealth of information to support your business. Let’s make no mistake about it, it is a business. Commenting on one’s profession and saying resources for the consumer, whatever they may say or be, are not valuable because they may contain comments or information counter to your opinion is just unprofessional. This is like a lawyer saying online resources to see if there are any comments about his or her abilities from former clients is not valid. And I can imagine how much you like lawyers and would investigate one before using one
    Additionally, do you not expect a peer journal to find that a resource that provides feedback, sometimes negative, would not support your claim? Citing AIM is like a alcoholic citing the study showing beer is good for you.
    Lets get real about medicine. You are not Gods, you make mistakes, and some people just don’t like you. While you may believe, and it may be true, that you are a really good physician, some just don’t think so. That’s the American way. That’s why there’s choice.

  • IVF-MD

    Critical thinking is so empowering. The reasons that it’s not the dominant strategy for most people are manyfold. Primarily, those who control their schooling system have conditioned most of us to not think for ourselves, not question things intelligently, but rather rely on a small group of grand central-planning overseers to tell us what’s good for us and what’s not good for us.

    We as patients (yes, I’m a doctor, but also a patient) are already at such a disadvantage when making smart healthcare decisions because of lack of information (not to mention lack of choice when insurance is involved). To make an argument that giving us more information could confuse us because we are too dumb to think for ourselves is a bit disturbing, if that’s truly what the politicians are saying. The smart thing would be for us to read ratings and feedback about how good a certain doctor is at controlling the blood pressure of his patients, how nice he is, how short the waiting room times are, what kind of music they play in the office, what color the wallpaper is, what school he went to, how convenient the parking is and what kind of coffee they serve and then to let each individual patient decide for himself which bits of info to believe and to value. We, as patients should then have the freedom to go visit the doctor and learn more for ourselves. We should also have the freedom to switch if we wind up not liking the doctor despite how good the ratings, certifications and reviews were. If we are dumb enough to automatically rule out a doctor because of 1 or 2 bad reviews, then that’s our own loss. Now if we find a doctor with 1000 bad reviews, then perhaps it’s not one or two dissatisfied patients with vendettas but rather something inherent about that doctor himself, no? Also, those of us who are too lazy or scared to do all this diligent research can choose to mindlessly go to whomever the authorities tell us to. To each his own.

  • Shane Stadler

    Historically, the answer to speech is more speech. Unfortunately, doctors are precluded from responding to egregious or fictitious postings on the Internet (a little thing called HIPAA). Let’s see how the market would respond if all professions were suddenly prohibited from responding to on-line postings. The outcry would be deafening and Washington would be at the legislative desk immediately. The thousands of doctors we work with value good feedback. However, the vast majority of what is posted on web sites now has little to no value. Ways to improve the current paradigm? Sites should have a mechanism that validates if the posters is actually a patient (there are far too many ways to game the system now). Have some significant sample size before posting a “grade” (an n of 1, irregardless of whether that rating is good or bad, is of little value). Limit commentary to subjective impressions and not technical details, unless the technical details can be checked/moderated. Post a caveat that commentary is not a surrogate for objective measures of quality of care. The sites that really want to advance the dialogue of health care must include the voices of physicians. And physicians will never participate in a system that exists mainly to denigrate them professionally and personally. Those sites that seek to attract the greatest number of visitors so that they can sell more ad revenue must be judged by their business model.

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