Sunday, March 22, 2009

Internet Rating Sites Are Beauties Of The Internet

Today an NPR segment discussed opposition to doctor-rating internet websites. RateMDs.com, for one, is a site that asks patients to rate doctors. Hotels and restaurants, plumbers, even Professors at Ratemyprofessor.com all merit review sites. These sites sometimes cause great harm to small businesses, but they can also raise standards, according to one pizzeria owner interviewed in San Francisco.

Of course, it is no less than a neurosurgeon, easily one of the highest paid arms of the medical profession, who has started a company selling so-called 'patient waivers' to other doctors. After waiting a few weeks for an appointment with some medical god, an unwary patient, perhaps sick, has to fill in a form saying the doctor he is about to meet can do no wrong, or if he does there won't be any consequences except in a court of law (the old-fashioned way, in other words).

This is so unreasonable, it's funny. It's high time for medical doctors to wake up and get over it. To get over the fact of their power over patients, and to get over the fact that they are dependent on the goodwill of patients for their practices. Doctors should realize that most of the time, the advice they offer is a commodity that patients can find elsewhere in America or abroad. Patients, after all, clearly experience immediate benefit staying away from bad apples in the profession. With the glut of doctors available, consumers need help with making choices using impartial, unpaid advice.

Good doctors need have no fear of these judgemental rating sites. If the professor rankings are anything to go by, it would appear that most students don't avail themselves of the opportunity to complain. Also, most faculty administrators are also themselves rated and don't make salary decisions of professors based on these rankings or any other. By the way, I noticed that Ratemyprofessor.com has entirely different rankings from U.S.News and World Report, a magazine that has been at the job awhile longer. Ratemyprofessors has 'best teacher', 'hottest' rankings and so on.

It's true that reviews of any kind on the internet are possibly skewed to the negative side, and negative reviews could impact business success. So be it, I say. If many unrelated people have the same impressions of service, then it's useful information for newbies and unsuspecting paying customers to know.

In the words of the founder of ratemds.com:

"John Swapceinski, co-founder of RateMDs.com, said that in recent months, six doctors have asked him to remove negative online comments based on patients' signed waivers. He has refused.

"They're basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive," Swapceinski said.

He said he's planning to post a "Wall of Shame" listing names of doctors who use patient waivers.

Segal, of Medical Justice, said the waivers are aimed more at giving doctors ammunition against Web sites than against patients."

Sorry, almighty Dr. Segal, but that's disingenuous. Since when are websites responsible for bad patient reviews? Doesn't make sense. Let's hope that this sort of medical information only improves service to patients, out of respect for those who must pay huge expenses. It should have happened a long time ago. Consumers do have time to make choices and it is in their best overall and financial interest to find good doctors, or at least avoid bad ones.

Doctors should make more use of computers to share expertise from distances. More uses will surely be found by doctors who aren't computer-phobic. Doctors who won't use computers and can't imagine the internet's mostly unleashed power for good in their profession make me impatient of their ignorance. Everyone can use a computer, like using a typewriter, or watching television without knowing how to fix it. It's great to be able to simply phone a doctor's office for that hazily remembered appointment time, a task that used to be impossible not so long ago in the pre-computer past.

Perhaps Dr. Segal doesn't read a movie or hotel review, or Consumer Reports before he buys a car or household appliance? But can you imagine his surprise if he had to sign a 'buyer's waiver' saying that complaints would be unacceptable?

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