1. Health
Trisha Torrey

Tragic Reminders of the Uselessness of Doctor Ratings

By September 11, 2013

Follow me on:

We're hearing too much in the news lately about dangerous doctors, and a quick search reminds me of WHY we can't trust doctor ratings sites.

Dr. Spyros Panos, an orthopedic surgeon in the Mid-Hudson Medical Group in Fishkill / Poughkeepsie, NY lost his license to practice medicine after admitting guilt in 7 cases of performing fake surgeries.† Not only was he scheduling 22 surgeries a day, and averaging 17 in a day (most orthopedic surgeons perform no more than 32 surgeries a month) - but he didn't really do anything to help those patients at all.† At least one patient died.

Yet - here's his online doctor rating track record:

Seriously - based on those ratings, wouldn't you choose this guy for your surgery?† It's entirely possible that out of possibly hundreds of fake surgeries, some of the patients did use these ratings sites to choose him - and now some of them are dead.

Could that happen to you? Do you trust these ratings sites?

Let's try another one.

In a USA today exposť called Thousands of doctors practicing despite errors, misconduct, we find family practice doctor, Greggory Phillips, MD from Fort Worth, Texas cited for his malpractice and poor care, in particular, bad subscribing practices.† Let's see how he stacks up in doctors ratings sites:

At least Yelp! didn't have any ratings information for either of them. We've heard about how Yelp! manipulates their ratings before.† In fact, just this week I heard from someone else who posted a good rating for someone he had worked with, only to have it removed by Yelp! in favor of a 1-star rating.)

So what do we empowered patients learn from all this?

First - that trusting reviews on a doctor ratings website is folly.† Clearly - you cannot trust them.† They are people's opinions based on things like how polite the receptionist is - NOT helpful when it comes to the need for real care.

Second - that there are ways to find a doctor and his or her credentials online that are safe and useful, including information about malpractice.

And finally - that just because a doctor is nice, does not mean he or she is competent - and vice versa.† If you ask a friend for a referral to a doctor, and that friend uses the word "nice" - dig deeper!

As we move into 2014, and the Affordable Care Act kicks in, finding the right doctor is bound to become more difficult.† But that does not mean we can or should take shortcuts.† Read the USA Today expose cited above... it will make your toenails curl and will compel you to be very careful.

Doctors ratings are shortcuts - dangerous shortcuts.† Just don't go there.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Agree? Disagree?

Share your experience or join the conversation!

NEWSLETTER | TWITTER | GOOGLE + | CONNECT

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Photo @iStockphoto.com

Comments
September 13, 2013 at 12:38 am
(1) John S. says:

Trisha, this is a very good article. Thanks for posting it. I have replied to it on our site:

http://php.ratemds.com/social/?q=node/64979#comment-223424

John
RateMDs.com co-founder

September 13, 2013 at 8:10 am
(2) David Williams of the Health Business Blog says:

Trisha,

The case against reviews is overstated and the proposed alternatives arenít as great as you make them sound. There are some excellent reviews on Yelp along with ways to validate them. Meanwhile, the USA Today article you cite is mainly about how information about bad doctors is suppressed, so that limits the usefulness of your second recommendation.

See the Health Business Blog for more: http://healthbusinessblog.com/2013/09/13/patient-reviews-dont-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater/

David E. Williams of the Health Business Blog

September 13, 2013 at 11:49 am
(3) Trisha Torrey says:

John,

I appreciate that you are trying to link to news articles about bad doctors from your site, but exactly how is someone supposed to find them? Why can’t I find them right on the doctor’s listing at your site? You provide a place for feedback, but I can’t imagine too many find it. I never knew it existed except for your link.

Agreed on the too little information found thru state boards – I have written about that and the fact that most ask doctors to self-report. Ludicrous! But they do have licensing basics, which is they only reason they are useful. it’s one way to find out if a doctor has practiced in another state.

However – by deflecting to the uselessness of state boards you’ve done nothing to improve the much worse situation where doctors appear to be so stellar (as in my post above) and are, instead, dangerous.

Trisha

September 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm
(4) Trisha Torrey says:

My Reply to David Williams comment (see above)

Wow – David – a shot across the bow.

My reply:

1. Yelp! is worthless for doctor reviews. They “filter” their reviews, and based on reports from so many others, you can pay them to “filter” them more positively.

Previous posts that address this:

http://patients.about.com/b/2011/04/28/do-you-believe-yelp-ratings.htm

http://patients.about.com/b/2011/12/19/more-yelp-manipulation-of-doctors-ratings.htm

In fact, I have more confidence in some of the others cited above than I do in Yelp.

I see that some of your reviews have been filtered. I have to wonder whether Yelp! has offered to make yours more positive, too?

2. I never said that it’s easy to find useful information about doctors – don’t put words on my page. In fact, there is no easy way at all. It takes digging, and even then the information may not be available. But there are some ways to make an attempt as described here. And each patient owes it to him or herself to make an attempt.

Let me ask you this, David. Looking at those reviews as cited above – suppose you had researched those doctors and found those reviews… would you have sent your mother to them? Most patients would, because most patients never look any further than the star ratings. That’s real, even if it’s dangerous. That’s one reason I say forget those reviews.

The other big reason is because it’s SO easy to game them. Whole companies exist to game them on behalf of doctor’s practices across the country. I can’t imagine what it costs to clean up a doctor’s reputation by getting people who have no idea who that doctor is to review him or her. I don’t know how those people sleep at night knowing that a patient can suffer at the hands of a bad doctor based on the bogus reviews they write.

Next question: how would you have felt if you relied on those high ratings and something horrible happened to your mother? We can guess that in many of the horrors and deaths reported, that’s exactly what happened.

The real problem is that we are talking about normal behaviors here – people who look up a doctor, see a bunch of shining stars, and make snap decisions. And that’s dangerous.

Transparency is vital – on that we agree. But I’ll take facts, as found in licensing reports, and the news media (the two places I tell people to attempt to find some information) over anonymous, filtered, possibly gamed, and far too subjective (“the receptionist is nice”) reviews any day of the week.

Trisha

September 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm
(5) David Williams of the Health Business Blog says:

Thanks, Trisha. As far as shots across the bow go, it’s interesting that you’re ready to challenge me about how I take care of my mother. Happy to tell you about that if we meet up in person but I’ll leave it out of my public response.

There’s no way to get everything you need to know about a doctor from the online world. There’s plenty of room for improvement, as I mention. But reviews –not necessarily star ratings– can be useful as an information source if you know how to read them and look for clues about whether they are real or not.

In Massachusetts I use doctor ratings and review sites –not just Yelp– in conjunction with information from MHQP, word-of-mouth from fellow patients, recommendations from my own physicians and friends and family who are physicians, and business contacts in the medical world. I’m willing to bet I have more access to information about doctors in my area than almost anyone, and yet I still find the information to be useful.

Your faith in the “facts” from licensing reports and the news media is kind of curious since for most doctors there’s very little information to find. I’ll keep relying on all the information that’s available.

David

September 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm
(6) Trisha Torrey says:

David – I know nothing about your mother or her care. I might have just as easily mentioned your father, or your child, or anyone else you care about. I make no challenge to how you care for anyone. In fact, I’m quite sure it’s something you are very good at, and that the people you care for are very lucky to have you.

Perhaps our biggest difference is that I would prefer to rely on facts – IF I can find them – than on subjective reviews of subjective areas of patient care.

Agreed that there are many clues out there – but ferreting out what is real or what isn’t is rarely a task patients will attempt. Most look at a bunch of shiny stars and go with it.

So I will continue to maintain that it’s too easy, and therefore too dangerous, to rely on doctor’s ratings and review sites. Perhaps someday they will be useful! But so far – they are not.

Trisha

September 14, 2013 at 10:13 am
(7) Eric Andrist says:

Yes, most online reviews of anything are ridiculous. I’m trying to start a new business. I’ve had maybe a dozen calls from people who found me through Yelp, all of which said they’d leave me a good review. I have three. People forget to do it. But I refuse to buy good reviews, so it sits at three while others are amassing great reviews by the dozens by paying for them.

About 10 years ago we did a remodel on our house and I did exhaustive research before hiring a contractor. I ended up using an online service that screens the contractors and handles any problems that might occur during or after the job. The contractor I hired had 5 stars and loads of great reviews.

It turned out to be the worst nightmare of my life. He had multiple jobs going at the same time, pooled all the money to pay for job supplies, ran out of money and kept asking me to cover the costs of the sub-contractors even though I had already paid him for such things (in payments). I ended up paying for my roof twice. Then he walked off the job leaving it unfinished. I sued, won…he died and his son filed bankruptcy. I never saw a dime and was left with an unfinished house.

All by a 5-star contractor with great reviews.

September 16, 2013 at 12:03 am
(8) vicki childress says:

When will the AMA or “specialty” governing body be held responsible for policing their doctors….I give this doc no time before he is back in the mix of healthcare with all wrongs forgiven….WE HAVE TO DEMAND DOCTORS STOP HARMING US. Remember the Hippocratic oath…First do no harm….If that is violated, the doctor should be stripped of his/her credentials and made to do public service or jail time…..

September 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm
(9) Anne Payne says:

As a consumer, I have looked at physician reviews to get an indication of whether the physician appears to take time with each patient and listen to concerns, whether the office is run efficiently, and similar matters. I would certainly not give the ratings weight because, for example, one said a surgeon was skilled, The’ rater would have no frame of reference beyond being satisfied or not with an individual outcome. I do think most people have enough common sense to make that distinction, although I suppose a lot of five star ratings could distort confer a halo effect.

September 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm
(10) Heather says:

Caveat emptor.
The idea that reviews should not exist at all because uneducated people don’t look any farther than what’s written before them is absurd.
All media should be a starting point for further investigation and nothing more; educating people to the pitfalls of media seems more rational than condemning the practice.

September 17, 2013 at 7:05 am
(11) Trisha Torrey says:

Hmm… Heather…. like David, above, you’re putting words in my mouth (on my page.)

I never said that the reviews should not exist. In fact, I’ve written about the best ways to fill out those reviews.

What I said was – don’t use them them to assess a doctor’s capability of taking care of you or a loved one. That’s entirely different.

If you are sick TODAY, and in need of a new doctor, then you are in no frame of mind to learn about the pitfalls of the media as a starting point for your research about a doctor’s ability to take care of you.

Someday, if those review sites become transparent, if they learn to identify which reviews have been written by the gamers (from paid or bribed reviewers to family members and friends) and when there are hundreds or thousands of reviews for most doctors – then I’ll change my opinion.

You and I agree on your essential point – that people need to investigate from a variety of angles. But for now, using doctor ratings sites is not just a waste of time. It can be dangerous, too.

October 24, 2013 at 6:22 pm
(12) Odman says:

To some degree I agree with Trisha’s views, however I think it’s a matter of how you use the information.
As an example of useless information I’d dare to say that healthgrades.com is high on the list. They only give you stars, albeit under a few different categories. After all what does it mean if I tell you that I know a great mechanic. Does he know your car? Has he ever worked on your problem with it? What was great? The price? The speed? The quality? Does he have a great sense of humor?

Instead I tend to use the lack of any reviews or any information at all for that matter as a huge warning flag. Does this dr. have any patients? Why did nobody write anything, good or bad? Also with all businesses I completely ignore the single 5-star or the single 1-star review. You know that the first one is themselves and the second one is the next door competitor. I also completely ignore the ones with 50 reviews all saying “awesome” or “great”. Got it, you got some candy for saying that. Again, what was great? You have to look carefully. If you’re looking for a surgeon, look for comments about recovery experiences from the same kind of surgery by the same doctor and compare with information from websites about that particular surgery. Ask the doctor questions. Do your homework. No stars on a website will help you if the doctor doesn’t help you. I write very few reviews myself, but when I do I write very detailed information so that a reader can judge if the review is even the least relevant to their needs. I really wish we could get rid of all these star ratings, on that point I completely agree with the author!

November 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm
(13) Lt. Daniels says:

Actually you’re way off on the number of Panos lawsuits. It’s currently greater than 250, and he has plead guilty to a federal felony charge of Medicare fraud.

November 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm
(14) Maria Esther says:

I agree that one should not rely on online reviews when is comes to selecting a doctor. Instead, look at his biography, where he went to medical school, his residency, his areas of expertise etc. Then see the doctor and ask direct questions yourself.
People hide behind an ďanonymousĒ and write positive reviews but also negative reviews, destroying the reputation of a doctor who could be an excellent one.
Iíve seen emotionally charged negative reviews about doctors and dentists who are in my experience, excellent professionals. Thereís absolutely no filter for these reviews so the same person can write multiple ones.
Do your own research and please donít believe everything an anonymous person writes on the internet, positive or negative.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.