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MD Rating Sites: Current State of the Space and Future Prospects

Ruth Given has spent the last few months doing an exhaustive study of the physician ratings business. Ruth is an independent health economist and consultant who has in the past worked for Kaiser, the California Medical Association and Deloitte Consulting. We’re very happy to make her study available on THCB and the Health 2.0 Blog. You can download the full report at the end of this introductory article — Matthew Holt

The past few years have seen an explosion in growth of websites allowing patients to review/rate (usually rant or rave about) their health care providers. Recent mainstream media attention has focused on the rating of physicians, with over 30 such sites now operating. A few sites, including RateMDs and Healthgrades, have been around for a number of years, but several high profile initiatives were recently launched. Last fall, national health plan Anthem announced that it would be partnering with restaurant rater Zagat to allow its enrollees to rate their MDs online. And in April, Angie’s List, whose subscribers rate a wide variety of local service companies, began to include all types of health care providers, including physicians.

Physician reaction to these sites has been generally unenthusiastic; but there is currently very little MDs can do legally to stop patients from posting opinions about them online. While this approach to reporting on MD performance has its shortcomings, there is also a growing recognition of the importance of accounting for patient experience in evaluating quality of care. The federal government, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is moving to collect patient experience-related feedback, such as that included in their annual consumer assessment of hospitals reports. An AHRQ/Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey tool on patients’ experience with physicians has also been developed and is currently in use in a number of settings.

Given the recent ramp-up in sites and their newly legitimized role, the future for online MD rating seems fairly rosy. But is this really the case?

What are reasonable expectations for the performance of specific sites
and the overall space? Just because we’ve seen a flurry of activity and
funding doesn’t mean that this trend has much staying power. The
previous dot-com boom/bust cycle should make us wary of being taken in
by the newest “new thing,” especially in the frequently over-hyped
realm of health care online. The purpose of this informal analysis is to scope out the
prospects for online MD rating space. I do this by considering three
key questions:

1) What is the value (i.e., benefit, controlling for
broadly defined “costs”) for the consumer/patient/user;

2) How fair are
these sites to the MDs being rated (where fairness and accuracy of
ratings are positively associated with value for the consumer); and

3)
Where will the financial resources come from to support operation of
these sites?

This last question is critical, not only because
value/fairness alone will not ensure website survival if no one is
willing to cover the costs, but because the actual source of underlying
funding (e.g., advertising, other clients, and/or sponsors) may create
an impression of bias, and reduce interest and traffic, ultimately
dooming the site itself. While I have tried to be as thorough as possible in
identifying MD rating websites and exploring the major issues, this is
only a preliminary effort, not the definitive analysis on this space.
In fact, I’m hoping that blog-publication will stimulate lots of
feedback on my assessment of this space from those who know as much if
not more than I do about this topic.

To download the report (PDF) click here

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Simon Sikorski MDStefanie BillYourCity.MD -CEOBradley HoltonDolon Recent comment authors
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Simon Sikorski MD
Guest

Since when is a doctor ratings site a public service when it’s an advertising ploy structured around shaming and blackmailing doctors!

Stefanie Bill
Guest

I think you lack the actual questions on conceptual domains. I think one factor which affects the patient satisfaction ratings is due to lack of standardized instrument. Internet can help a lot in our health care systems because through online Info MD online the patient can freely expressed their thoughts about how the Health care member handle them.

YourCity.MD -CEO
Guest

Happy Holidays! How exhaustive of a search was done on rating sites? The study missed 500 city .MD rating web sites, one in every major city in the USA, with over 20,000 ratings in the mid-west alone since August 2007 which were designed to mitigate patient/doctor issues privately. Thought The Health Care Blog should be the first to make your audience aware that at http://www.Boston.MD or http://www.NYC.MD or http://www.Cincinnati.MD or any of our other 500 .MD city websites in the USA (see all cities at http://www.MyCity.MD), all licensed health care professionals automatically receive and are set up already (knowingly or… Read more »

Bradley Holton
Guest

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Bradley Holton.

Dolon
Guest

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AG, M.D., J.D.
Guest
AG, M.D., J.D.

WoW! I guess there aren’t too many physicians rating this on line rating system. Has anyone stopped for a moment to look at what people, for the most part, complain about. I guess not! Satisfied patients leave . . . yes, they are satified and not likely to praise or complain. But you can bet the dissatisfied patient will bitch, complain and moan. Who is likely to be dissatisfied? Do any of you have any idea what it is like to work in an emergency room, dealing with drug seekers, malingers chronic pain patients and, of course, the truly sick… Read more »

Andrei Z.
Guest

Ruth, You did a fantastic job on this very thorough and well-informed report. We launched Doctor.com in September ’08 and have been astonished at how quickly we were able to grow traffic growth and gain traction with both end users and health professionals. Clearly, there is immense demand for an online solution to the doctor selection process. As doctor rating sites proliferate it will be interesting to see if anyone tries to develop a universal standard for these ratings, or at least a standardized format in which basic rating data can be shared. The online real estate space is in… Read more »

Rita J.
Guest
Rita J.

Dr Abdel Meri is the best doctor we’ve been to, me and my husband (Rita J.& Carlos J.). He always gets the diagnosis right, his educational background makes him very knowledgeable. Not only he treats his patients right, he is very patient and respectable even on the busiest days. No matter how busy he is, he takes time with his patients, and helps in anyways he can. His staff are also great and always helpful. When you get in his clinic, you can feel comfort no matter how sick you are, or how much pain you have, because you know… Read more »

Gregg Masters
Guest

Wait a minute! The world is flat, right? At least this is buzz seemingly with traction and a home in the blog and micro blogospheres…We’ve all heard of UGC (user generated content) as “the next, new thing”. Yet there is no better example of hierarchical overkill than in the health care industry. While most of the quintessential bureaucracies are hosted by institutional providers, hospitals, healthplans, integrated delivery systems,etc., make no mistake mainstream medicine has done their level best in architecting a “special boy/girl” syndrome around the coveted “MD-iety” status. So why not level the playing field? After all isn’t the… Read more »

John
Guest
John

“The report mentioned the biggest online rating site only has approximately 10,000 ratings.”
I wonder if John Grohol even read the report. I further wonder if the good doctor is having his judgement colored due to being rated negatively on at least one of the sites. But maybe I’m just cynical.

Scott Shapiro
Guest

Ruth,
HealthGrades has a bit of data on your question that I can share.
A recent survey of our visitors finds that 31% are searching for information on their current doctor. The rest are searching for information on a new doctor — 47% know that doctor’s name, and 22% are researching new doctors without knowing a specific name.
That 31% is interesting, with respect to Jane’s opinion; a healthy portion seem to simply be checking up on their current doctor.

Ruth Given
Guest
Ruth Given

I’m glad to see that the major Internet survey research initiatives (esp. Pew) are planning more questions about patients’ interests in MD info online. Based on my recent research experience, I have a couple of suggestions. 1st – it would be great to know more specifically under what circumstances patients find this info most helpful. When I talked to Jane Sarasohn-Kahn a couple of months ago, we had rather different opinions. She thought it would be mostly when there was a need for super-specialty care for a high cost, high risk condition – but pretty much a one-off situation. While… Read more »

Scott Shapiro
Guest

Susannah,
Yes, HealthGrades has traditionally been of most use to patients facing a medical condition who are in need of finding the right doctor, hospital nursing home for themselves or a loved one. We do recognize that not everyone’s online, however, which is one reason why we published a book this year with Sterling: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/HealthGrades-Guide-to-Americas-Hospitals-and-Doctors/From-Healthgrades-the-Leader-in-Healthcare-Ratings-with-Samantha-L-Collier-MD-MBA-Healthgrades-Chie/e/9781435104266/?itm=1.
We’ve also recently puchased two other sites, wrongdiagnosis.com and cureresearch.com, that have broader health content, vaulting HealthGrades into top-ten health property status as we attract a wider user base.
Really looking forward to the results of your current research.

Susannah Fox
Guest

Scott, I thought your strongest point in Boston was when you pointed out that people facing serious health issues are focused on finding the right doctor. I’ve seen the same thing in my own research comparing the worried well and those living with chronic conditions. But here’s what I just wrote over on e-patients.net where we are discussing the same topic: Another issue in the development of the doctor-rating sites is that many people don’t have a wide range of choices when it comes to their providers AND once one is chosen, most people won’t need the service again for… Read more »

irving
Guest

We are impressed with your keen perception of the rating sites and the report was truly exceptional. As part of the Vitals team, we are glad that our cumulative efforts have shown through. We continually strive to make it easier for users to find a physician that is right for them based both on empirical qualifications (i.e. quality of education, board certification, etc.) as well as subjective qualifications (i.e. ratings, reviews, etc.). As an aside, at the time you wrote the article it seems that you couldn’t find Dr. Monique Marie Baer on the Vitals.com search page. You can now… Read more »