Now some doctors burned by reviews are striking back. A growing number of them are asking new patients to sign up-front agreements promising not to post anything about them on-line, or in any other media, “without prior written consent,” according to an article by Sandra Boodman in the Washington Post.
The ethics and legality of such “gag orders” are questionable. But to my lights, they serve a useful purpose: Any doctor who would be so sensitive to criticism that he or she would ask me to sign such an agreement is not a doctor whom I would want to trust with my life. Period.
As for the web sites themselves, they have varying amounts of useful information. RateMDs, for example, one of the biggest, covers some 200,000 physicians across the country, but most of the doctors have only one or two reviews. It’s not fair to make a judgment about a doctor based on such a limited survey. I would want to see at least ten or more reviews of a doctor, and see how consistent the ratings were among the responders, before thinking this was useful information.
The popularity of these web sites is a sign of how hungry patients are for reliable information in making the important choice of a doctor. And the fact is that there is very little reliable objective information on which patients can make informed decisions. I devoted a chapter of my book, “The Life You Save,” to finding a top primary care doctor, and another to finding a top surgeon. I believe there is no easy shortcut for the hard work of:
* Checking credentials to make sure the doctor is board-certified by one of the officially recognized boards (Michael Jackson’s live-in doctor, for example, was not certified in anything).
* Experiencing the doctor’s care, at least once, to gauge his or her listening skills and empathy. These are important not just for making patients feel good, but for making accurate diagnoses and giving patients confidence in the care plan the doctor develops.
* Making sure the doctor has adequate backup for when the doctor is out of town.
* Learning that the doctor is on staff at a good nearby hospital.
A detailed discussion of how to find top doctors and surgeons can be found in Chapter 5, Chapter 6 and Chapter 10 of “The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst.”