Would you pick a doctor just because someone you had never met gave her the thumbs up in an online review? Maybe not, but more people are turning to online sites such as RateMDs.com and Angie's List to look at what other patients have to say about a doctor's communication skills, punctuality and other intangibles that make up the patient experience.
Now Consumer Reports has joined the fray, publishing its first ratings of primary care and pediatrics practices. The group shined the spotlight on Massachusetts in a joint project with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners.
Earlier this year, Consumer Reports, in collaboration with the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, published ratings of heart surgeons, highlighting 27 group practices that scored well on quality standards.
Doctors aren't ordinarily big fans of rating sites, fearing their reputations will be unfairly tarnished. As for the Massachusetts ratings, "We would have aesthetically preferred something a little nicer" than the red and black numbered balls that Consumer Reports uses to rate physicians in five performance areas, says Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, "to distinguish us from an appliance and its repair record."
Still, he said, Massachusetts physicians support the new ratings, up to a point. "It's a nice piece of information, but it's only part of what someone needs to do to get an accurate assessment of a physician," says Aghababian.
So what else should patients do if they're in the market for a doctor?
Aghababian offers these suggestions:
1) Ask for recommendations from other doctors you trust.
2) Make sure the doctor has the appropriate board certification from the American Board Of Medical Specialties. Board-certified doctors meet strict standards for education, skills and experience, beyond state licensing requirements. Consumers can find out whether a physician is board certified at the ABMS website.
3) If you know there is a hospital that you want to use if the need were to arise, make sure the doctor you're considering has admitting privileges there.
4) Talk with the physician to see if you feel you can have a rapport with him or her. After all, even if a doctor rating site gives someone high marks for communication skills, if you don't feel comfortable talking about your medical concerns and asking questions, it's not the right physician for you.