Trashing Your Doctor: Are Online Patient Reviews Garbage?

Some doctors — actually, about 2,000 of them — are now asking their patients to sign a waiver before treatment is given. The waiver states that a patient will not write negative online reviews about the doctor.

As far as I’m concerned, this "no-trash" waiver should be thrown right in the garbage. Even if you buy into the fact that online doctor reviews lack authority as a bona fide resource, how can a doctor (or anyone for that matter) expect someone to give up their first-amendment rights?

How many Americans are such deprecators of democracy that they would sign this waiver (only about 3 percent of those surveyed according to one source)? Imagine, for instance, if you signed this waiver and then the doctor/specialist diagnosed you with cancer – and you did not have cancer. Would online communication not be one of the vehicles you would like to use to share this important information? (Hell) yes!

This brings up another relevant question:  Why is the online review of a doctor to be treated any different than the online review of your local restaurant? Can a doctor make the case that negative online comments are any more important to him, or disparaging to him, than to the average professional – whoever that is?  

If anything, would the American consumer not be more concerned about, or potentially affected by, the unacceptable behaviors and practices of his physician, rather than the tartness of the apple turnover at Joe’s? You would think so. And, when it comes down to it, the loss of business is the loss of business - no matter your profession, it is harmful.

Having said that, I agree with the American Medical Association, which recommends that consumers take online medical reviews with a grain of salt. Some people can fly off the handle pretty quickly if the paint scheme in the physician’s waiting room is off kilter. They could storm off and write a bad review based on that, or perhaps a 20-minute wait, or the fact the doctor did not smile at them when entering the room, etc.

As Chris Matyszczyk so humorously noted in his blog item yesterday, the people who are writing the reviews "may possibly be scorned lovers, mad people in pink tights or, who knows, rival intoxicated physicians, rather than real patients."

You just never know – which is exactly the viewpoint that took in its recent blog on doctor review sites.

It seems the point here is that doctor review sites may be fine to use as a point of reference. But when selecting a personal physician or specialist, do different kinds of research — talk to a doctor you trust for a referral, contact medical boards to see if any actions or reprimands have been taken against the doctor, ask friends/co-workers/acquaintances if they have recommendations, etc. Perhaps the doctor would be willing to speak or meet with you to answer questions before your initial visit. 

Until J.D. Power or Consumer Reports start to rate doctors, and until the Wellpoint/Anthem/Zagat programs permeate America (a recent New York Times article points out that Wellpoint/Anthem doctor reviews have been rolled out to two million WellPoint and Anthem members in southern California, Ohio and Connecticut, as well as 3.7 million Blue Cross and Blue Shield customers in North Carolina that aren’t affiliated with Anthem or WellPoint), we are stuck with what we have, including online reviews.

Even if you don’t believe in the online review system, it certainly makes no sense to sign away your rights.

If you’re curious about some of the websites that provide doctor reviews, here is a gaggle of them.

There is a company that doctors pay to track down negative online comments, and to provide the "no-trash" waivers mentioned above. You can find them mentioned all over the Internet – Medical Justice.

And thanks to ePharmaSummit for raising this issue in its blog. They cited a very interesting article from ABC News that provides an insightful overview of this topic.