Free speech vs. accuracy
The anonymity has made RateMDs cofounder John Swapceinski a target for some physicians who think the patient call-outs aren’t fair. “They’re not big proponents of freedom of speech. That’s what it really comes down to,” says Swapceinski, who has built his business in the face of doctor complaints, including legal efforts to pull down comments.
Swapceinski acknowledges that accuracy is an issue. “It’s true that some of the ratings that are up there are probably unfair. And the hope is the fair ratings will counteract and negate the unfair ones as more ratings are added,” he says. Ultimately, he hopes, the patient feedback will reward good doctors and punish bad ones. “It’s survival of the fittest,” says Swapceinski.
A doctor’s view of the sites
Milwaukee psychiatrist Shaili Jain believes doctors can benefit from taking a look at these sites. In her New England Journal of Medicine article “Googling Ourselves: What Physicians Can Learn From Online Rating Sites,” Jain argues that the sites offer doctors an opportunity to hear the unvarnished truth about what patients want or value.
“In the real world, disappointed patients rarely tell doctors to their face what they think of them,” she writes, mainly because patients feel vulnerable. In the patient-doctor relationship, “the treating physician holds most of the power.”
Of course, she adds, “whether publicly available performance evaluations will actually result in better care and service for patients or just more bureaucracy … remains to be seen.”
Still, some doctors are preempting their patients from rating their care, good or bad. Medical Justice, an organization that offers legal guidance to physicians, has developed a waiver that some patients are asked to sign prior to treatment. It effectively prohibits them from commenting about their physician online.
But Given believes the sites, as they evolve, can provide useful information. As she says, “there may be doctors who are somewhat clueless about how they come across, and how their office staff comes across, and this could be a wake-up call for them.”
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Jeff Levine writes about health and medical issues. He lives in Rockville, Md.