Relying on a Rating to Pick Your Doc?

The age of social media has allowed consumers to obtain more information up-front before they make decisions about the businesses or services they want to use. Sites like Yelp, Angie's List, Facebook and Twitter allow consumers to post information and ratings about local businesses, contractors and even professionals like doctors and lawyers. Others can then read up on the ratings before they make a decision about which professional or business to use.

Insurance companies have set up ratings services for medical professionals to rate doctors, nurse practitioners and other medical specialists on their medical care. These insurer ratings tend to focus on "cost and quality," according to an article by The Washington Post. The ratings are more likely to rank physicians on their use of electronic medical records than their interpersonal skills, to paraphrase one example given in the article. But for prospective patients, the doctor's ability to relay information about their medical conditions and prescriptions and to allay fears about illness may be more important than the doctor's cost per visit average. Differences in variables used by the insurers may also create widely different ratings for the same physician.

Patients Still Rely on Friends, Family More than Ratings for Recommendation

While using the Internet to find out information about a physician is growing more popular, most people still rely on a personal recommendation before choosing a doctor. They may speak to friends, co-workers or other doctors to get the name of a trusted physician. Some people actively avoid insurance rating services fearing that the insurers are deliberately steering patients to the cheapest doctor.

But as more people turn to medical professional ratings services, insurers may find that they need to adjust their ratings to provide more comprehensive analysis of the physicians rated since patients should be able to provide feedback and comments along with their ratings. And as physicians are rated by more patients, a clearer picture of the service they provide should emerge. For now, prospective patients may want to take medical professional ratings with a grain of salt.

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