Vital Health Grades?? Not So Much

23 Sep

Physician rating sites have been out on the web for a long time. They are commonly used by patients in order to get a sense of what people think about certain doctors in their community or when trying to decide on a new doctor when they move into town or are starting a family.

But, how much information do they actually provide? Is the information useful or should it be thrown out?

I think it’s probably somewhere in the middle. The main problem I see is that the response rate is terrible. On the two most common websites (healthgrades.com and vitals.com) I have about 10 rankings and 4 comments. Here’s the latest two comments from vitals.com:

Aug 20th, 2013
He’s in & out so fast I feel like he doesn’t much care.

Great Doctor
Apr 30th, 2013
Dr. Smith is great. The appointments never feel rushed and he takes his time to explain everything. He has a great bed side manner and my two year old little boy loves him. Dr. Smith goes out of his way to make the appointments not so scary for a child. Wonderful doctor!!

So, it’s either that I’m in and out so fast that I don’t care or I’m great and never make my patients feel rushed. Obviously, the answer is somewhere in between and that there are times when I do have to go faster than I would like to keep my schedule on track and there are times when I can sit and talk a little bit longer.

(One thing that is for sure is that I do care about my patients…a lot. So, I doubt if the person who left that review follows my blog but if they do, I’m sorry you felt that I don’t care, because I do to a fault. I take individual patient successes and failures and have work to keep the failures from affecting my family.)

So, I estimate over the 4 years that I have been practicing that I’ve seen somewhere close to 20-25K patients. Let’s pick the conservative estimate and run some math on 20,000.

Percentage of patients that have left reviews: 10/20000=0.05%

Percentage of patients that have left comments: 4/20000=0.02%

If I designed a study that would look at a condition that was present in 20K people in 3 years and told you that I was going to base my results on somewhere between 4-10 patients, I would be laughed at. Yet people commonly use physician rating sites to make decisions about something as important as who will take care of your children’s medical needs.

I’ve been through this is several different ways and probably the best blog post I’ve seen about it is my wife’s. You can read it here: What to look for in a pediatrician…

Here are some general tips:

1) Ask your friends. If you are similar to your friends and they like a doctor, chances are you’ll like them too.

2) Interview them before you deliver or start to see them. Seeing the office and getting to know their personality is very helpful.

3) Check where a doctor trained. Good training programs tend to produce good doctors (not always) and less known training programs can produce excellent doctors.

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