Skip to main content

Do Physician Rating Sites Make the Grade? Find a Doctor on Angie's List

I’ve never logged onto Angie’s List, but I might be on it.  Physicians are now routinely rated on various internet sites that the public can view before making appointments, or just as a parlor game.  You can look up doctors just as you would check ratings on toaster ovens, snow blowers, cars and restaurants.

Are these sites truly useful?

Can a grading site inform the public about a physician’s medical quality?

Can a visitor to the site be confident that the view expressed is true and objective?

I’m skeptical.

Easier to rate a fridge than a doc

I’ve thought deeply on the issue of medical quality since I was a medical intern in 1985.  Indeed, it was my preoccupation with this subject that led to the birth of this blog years ago.  Review the blog’s categories at the right of your screen and note how many labels include the term ‘quality’.   A recurrent theme here is how difficult it is to measure medical quality, even for medical insiders who know the blood and guts of the business.  Pay-for-Performance is an example of the government’s feeble effort to measure medical quality.  I have devoted several posts to exposing this sham and explaining its systemic flaws.

If physicians and health care experts can’t define and measure medical quality, then I am deeply skeptical that on-line rating sites can succeed where the medical profession has failed.  That this sites are filled with advertising communicates that their true mi$$ion may be unstated.

Nevertheless, these programs are here to stay and we can expect more competitors to materialize.  Let’s face it.  The public loves rating everything.  Each year, parents of high-schoolers race for the U.S. News and World Report annual college ratings, even though seasoned educators know that this is a poor resource for choosing quality higher education.   Throughout the country, there are lists of our best doctors, hospitals, athletes, musicians and chefs.   Sometimes, these lists defy logic.  How many #1 cardiologists can one city have?

Just ‘google’ the phrase ‘list of the 100 best…’, and see what pops up.

Doctor rating sites are likely to be sites where disgruntled patients express themselves.  This creates an indelible stain on a doctor’s reputation who cannot expunge the false claim.   It is well accepted that dissatisfied customers are more likely to speak out, which creates an unbalanced record of performance for doctors and various businesses.  I acknowledge that some on line criticisms may be valid, but others may false and defamatory.  How can a reader discern the truth? 

Consider the following hypothetical criticisms:

Keep away from this doctor.  He’s only in it for the money.
Perhaps, this is a patient who wouldn’t pay his bill.

I’ve never seen a doctor so insensitive to my pain.  After seeing him, I had to go to the emergency room for some relief.
Perhaps, this a patient who demanded narcotics, and the doctor declined to accommodate this request.

Warning!  This doc is in the pocket of insurance companies.  He was pushing me to try a different medication.
Perhaps, this patient was offered an inexpensive alternative that was medically equivalent.

Remember, one thing that on-line grading sites do not offer is both sides of the story.  Readers are counseled to assume there is another side, which may be where the truth lies.

New companies are emerging that promise to combat on-line attacks against physicians and others.  A component of their strategies is to encourage favorable comments to be added to the sites to provide balance and to suggest that a negative comment is an outlier.  All this sounds more like a game to me than true quality assessment.

Who’s grading the grading sites?  Will Angie take this on?


  1. Consumers are smart enough to discern a bitter patient, and even a set-up -yes physicians not only heal themselves...

    Following a legal story, I've read a ludibrious review on ER physicians who performed multiple cavity searches, including a colonoscopy

    Conversely, I just read of a physician who Googled all of his patients -he enounced it was common practice

  2. I admire your faith in consumers' discernment. I read the NYT piece on Googling also. Not sure how common this practice truly is. The cavity search item sounds intriguing.


  3. Though I mordantly wrote about the topic, you can follow the legal case by Googling David Eckert vs. Gila Regional Medical Center including Robert Wilcox, M.D and Okay Odocha, M.D.

    Thoroughgoingly, Mr.Eckert was later billed for their services. Patient reviews are available on the rating sites, and that alone, filleth my cup

    filleth my cup

  4. I am a member of Angie's List and have rated physicians there and used their ratings. Their ratings system is very scrupulous, and avoids many of the problems of anonymity and peevishness that plague other reviewing sites. In my case, I wrote a very negative review for a very bad physician, and someone from Angie's List called me to confirm my review and make sure I was serious.

  5. Duncan, I'm sure your review was thoughtful and fair. I'd like to think you would also take the effort to praise deserving physicians.

  6. Dr. Kirsch,

    I've enjoyed your blog. You point out some positive points. Let me say that not all of us are that way. I caught a member of a doctors' family posting positive comments on the doctor and reported it to the website. I've posted as much good things as I can on doctors AND I have straight out asked who their boss is so I can tell them things. That being said, I've had several of them that misdiagnosed, did illegal things and you bet I'm posting and alerting people in every way about them.



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why Most Doctors Choose Employment

Increasingly, physicians today are employed and most of them willingly so.  The advantages of this employment model, which I will highlight below, appeal to the current and emerging generations of physicians and medical professionals.  In addition, the alternatives to direct employment are scarce, although they do exist.  Private practice gastroenterology practices in Cleveland, for example, are increasingly rare sightings.  Another practice model is gaining ground rapidly on the medical landscape.   Private equity (PE) firms have   been purchasing medical practices who are in need of capital and management oversight.   PE can provide services efficiently as they may be serving multiple practices and have economies of scale.   While these physicians technically have authority over all medical decisions, the PE partners can exert behavioral influences on physicians which can be ethically problematic. For example, if the PE folks reduce non-medical overhead, this may very directly affe

Should Doctors Wear White Coats?

Many professions can be easily identified by their uniforms or state of dress. Consider how easy it is for us to identify a policeman, a judge, a baseball player, a housekeeper, a chef, or a soldier.  There must be a reason why so many professions require a uniform.  Presumably, it is to create team spirit among colleagues and to communicate a message to the clientele.  It certainly doesn’t enhance professional performance.  For instance, do we think if a judge ditches the robe and is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, that he or she cannot issue sage rulings?  If members of a baseball team showed up dressed in comfortable street clothes, would they commit more errors or achieve fewer hits?  The medical profession for most of its existence has had its own uniform.   Male doctors donned a shirt and tie and all doctors wore the iconic white coat.   The stated reason was that this created an aura of professionalism that inspired confidence in patients and their families.   Indeed, even today

Electronic Medical Records vs Physicians: Not a Fair Fight!

Each work day, I enter the chamber of horrors also known as the electronic medical record (EMR).  I’ve endured several versions of this torture over the years, monstrosities that were designed more to appeal to the needs of billers and coders than physicians. Make sense? I will admit that my current EMR, called Epic, is more physician-friendly than prior competitors, but it remains a formidable adversary.  And it’s not a fair fight.  You might be a great chess player, but odds are that you will not vanquish a computer adversary armed with artificial intelligence. I have a competitive advantage over many other physician contestants in the battle of Man vs Machine.   I can type well and can do so while maintaining eye contact with the patient.   You must think I am a magician or a savant.   While this may be true, the birth of my advanced digital skills started decades ago.   (As an aside, digital competence is essential for gastroenterologists.) During college, I worked as a secretary