A Good Doctor is More than Well-Mannered

The convenience of the Internet allows consumers to evaluate and compare their experiences with anything from piercings and dog walking to a visit to their doctor’s office. Although the website ratings may be helpful in an initial survey of local doctors, patients should not look to them as their sole source of information when determining to whom they’ll entrust their health care, says Dr. Pauline W. Chen in a New York Times article.

Dr. Chen noted that on a particular consumer reviews website, doctors are evaluated in five categories (price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality and professionalism) and given a grade according to user input. She found that doctors who are “warm, concerned and focused” receive A’s or B’s, whereas the less friendly may be given failing grades.

While these ratings correctly reflect the fact that patients feel more at ease with compassionate and caring doctors, one would be hard-pressed to find in these report cards an evaluation of the doctors’ medical skills. Such is not the case in consumers’ evaluation of other trades, such as roofing or body piercing, where they are quick to comment on the quality of services or craftsmanship.

Dr. Chen suggests that, instead of simply relying on some generic grades that could very well be a mere personality assessment, patients should find out about their doctor’s “training, board certification, experience, membership in a respected professional society, safety records and hospital affiliations.”

The American College of Surgeons found this year that more than a third of patients did not review the credentials of the surgeons who operated on them, but on average they spend 10 hours researching a job change or 8 hours on a new car.

Patients should not blindly trust their doctors. “[M]edicine and surgery are team sports,” said Dr. Thomas Russell, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. Patients make the ultimate decisions about who will give them health care and, in that capacity, they have an important role in the team. They should be diligent in educating themselves.

Dr. Russell’s book, “I Need an Operation…Now What? A Patient’s Guide to a Safe and Successful Outcome,” encourages patients to equip themselves with knowledge of their illnesses and doctors and be more effectively involved in their own treatment plan.

Patrick Malone has written a book on how consumers can be pro-active in their medical care. The book is: The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care and Avoiding the Worst. Read about the book here. It can be pre-ordered here on Amazon. Several chapters detail the steps needed to find both top primary care doctors as well as specialists.

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