Can you choose a doctor by doing research online? Or can you learn more about your own doctor by checking her out on the web?
The answer is: Yes and no.
In fact, there is plenty of information about individual physicians online, but not all that information is helpful, or even accurate. Depending on the source of the information, the information you find may help you find exactly the right doctor, or it may give you a very wrong impression.
The problem is that choosing the right doctor requires a combination of facts and personal preference. You will be able to find most of the facts you need online. You can find other's personal preferences, but you may need to actually see the doctor to develop your own.
Here are some ways to use the Internet to gather credible information about your doctor, or to do a search for a doctor who can help you.
Potential Pitfalls of Finding Information About Doctors Online
The main problem with doctor Internet information is that it may not be accurate. Inaccuracy may be a result of errors, subjectivity or the fact that it is not current.
Real errors exist in many places. Some are less important than others. For example, if a doctor graduated from medical school in 1982, but the information you find says he graduated in 1984, it won't make a real difference to you.
But if a site claims the doctor has never been convicted of malpractice, and, in fact, he has lost several malpractice suits in the past six months -- then the errors could have a direct impact on your care. In this case, the information is not current, one of the real pitfalls of relying on web information to choose your doctor.
Subjectivity is a result of making claims that are more based on personal opinion or marketing, than on fact. Example: a physician's personal website will be a good source for information such as his location, office hours, and even a determination of what specialty that doctor has chosen. It may even state whether he is accepting new patients. But it will not be completely objective information, since it will be more about enticing you to choose that doctor. In this case, follow the money.
Sites developed by private companies, including health insurance companies, to rate or rank doctors must be vetted for their sources of income. If the doctor pays for her own listing? Then you can't trust that it's objective.
Most of the facts you find online, as they relate to the objective information you need, will be close enough for your purposes. If you find you need more concise answers, you can always call that doctor's office to ask for clarification.
The only real important information to pursue further, when you are choosing a doctor who will perform any type of invasive or difficult treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or any other for a chronic disease, is malpractice information. Vetting a doctor for possible malpractice requires its own approach - see the next page of this article.
Next: What Kinds of Doctor Sites Are Most useful? including information about uncovering malpractice information.