MD Rating Sites: Current State of the Space and Future Prospects

Ruth Given has spent the last few months doing an exhaustive
study of the physician ratings business. Ruth is an independent health
economist and consultant who has in the past worked for Kaiser, the
California Medical Association and Deloitte Consulting. We’re very
happy to make her study available on THCB and the Health 2.0 Blog. You
can download the full report at the end of this introductory
article—Matthew Holt

The past few years have seen an explosion in growth of websites
allowing patients to review/rate (usually rant or rave about) their
health care providers. Recent mainstream media attention has focused on
the rating of physicians, with over 30 such sites now operating. A few
sites, including RateMDs and Healthgrades, have been around for a
number of years, but several high profile initiatives were recently
launched. Last fall, national health plan Anthem announced that it
would be partnering with restaurant rater Zagat to allow its enrollees
to rate their MDs online. And in April, Angie’s List, whose subscribers
rate a wide variety of local service companies, began to include all
types of health care providers, including physicians.

Physician reaction to these sites has been generally unenthusiastic;
but there is currently very little MDs can do legally to stop patients
from posting opinions about them online. While this approach to
reporting on MD performance has its shortcomings, there is also a
growing recognition of the importance of accounting for patient
experience in evaluating quality of care. The federal government,
through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is moving
to collect patient experience-related feedback, such as that included
in their annual consumer assessment of hospitals reports. An
AHRQ/Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey
tool on patients’ experience with physicians has also been developed
and is currently in use in a number of settings.

Given the recent ramp-up in sites and their newly legitimized role,
the future for online MD rating seems fairly rosy. But is this really
the case?

What are reasonable expectations for the performance of specific sites
and the overall space? Just because we’ve seen a flurry of activity and
funding doesn’t mean that this trend has much staying power. The
previous dot-com boom/bust cycle should make us wary of being taken in
by the newest “new thing,” especially in the frequently over-hyped
realm of health care online. The purpose of this informal analysis is to scope out the
prospects for online MD rating space. I do this by considering three
key questions:

1) What is the value (i.e., benefit, controlling for
broadly defined “costs”) for the consumer/patient/user;

2) How fair are
these sites to the MDs being rated (where fairness and accuracy of
ratings are positively associated with value for the consumer); and

Where will the financial resources come from to support operation of
these sites?

This last question is critical, not only because
value/fairness alone will not ensure website survival if no one is
willing to cover the costs, but because the actual source of underlying
funding (e.g., advertising, other clients, and/or sponsors) may create
an impression of bias, and reduce interest and traffic, ultimately
dooming the site itself. While I have tried to be as thorough as possible in
identifying MD rating websites and exploring the major issues, this is
only a preliminary effort, not the definitive analysis on this space.
In fact, I’m hoping that blog-publication will stimulate lots of
feedback on my assessment of this space from those who know as much if
not more than I do about this topic.

To download the report (PDF) click here

One Response to MD Rating Sites: Current State of the Space and Future Prospects

  1. Jeff Oster says:

    Rosy? No.
    From a consumer standpoint, it may seem like ratings have value. But from a provider standpoint, I really see no value. I'm rated each and every day by each patient I see.
    From a historical standpoint, I founded a rating service in 1996 called MedSurv. My goal was to try to create a kind of 'seal of good house keeping' for doctors. The project floundered for several years and finally died on the vine.
    Until there's a universal mandate, I don't see rating services as a valid tool.

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