Why are there no comprehensive reviews of doctors online?

March 12th, 2012

Well one reason is that people don’t bother rating doctors. Another (and I think more potent) threat is law suits!

But getting in the faces of the previously untouchable professional class has inevitably led to legal threats. He says he gets about one each week over negative reviews and receives subpoenas every month or two for information that can help identify reviewers, who believe they are posting anonymously.

Over at Angie’s List, service providers have sued reviewers, whose names are known to the company, “a handful” of times, according to the company. Angie’s List has paid their legal fees in the past, but a co-founder of the site, Angie Hicks, said she could not commit to doing that in every case in the future.

None of the litigants at Angie’s List have been doctors so far, but that doesn’t mean they are thrilled with her health reviews. “They told me that ‘patients aren’t smart enough to figure out whether I’m a good doctor,’ ” she said. “But I told them that these conversations have been happening all along.” The only difference with the site, she pointed out, is that the doctors get to listen in.

Some doctors have silenced patients anyway. Several years ago, a physician reputation management service called Medical Justice developed a sort of liability vaccine. Doctors would ask patients to sign an agreement promising not to post about the doctor online; in exchange, patients would get additional privacy protections.

The AMA has seemingly changed its tune since 2008.

This, however, is almost exactly the same statement it provided to its own publication, American Medical News, in 2008, when it was attributed to Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, the president-elect of the A.M.A. at the time. Had they achieved some kind of mind meld?

When I pointed this out to Mr. Mills, he got Dr. Carmel to the phone rather quickly.

“To advise people anonymously through an open site when this is an important decision for people’s lives, I don’t think it’s proper,” Dr. Carmel told me. “The evidence that’s given on many of these consumer sites is undocumented, unverified and anonymous. It may well have nothing to do with actual patient treatment.”

Lawyers are already suing review sites for posting negative reviews.

I’m expecting similar attacks when I rank lawyers on Harlan, because this is the kind of stuff that can be done with the law (in the civil context, motion granted/denied/granted-in-part-denied-in-part tells a lot:

Perhaps the biggest problem with the ratings is that they are incomplete. WellPoint tracks doctors’ communication skills, availability, office environment and trust, but it doesn’t yet provide information about medical outcomes. While it’s nice to know how long different obstetricians make you wait, it would also be helpful to know how many babies they end up delivering by Caesarean section.