Blogging about Healthcare Providers

March 23, 2009

Valuable information for consumers?

One of the unintended consequences of blogging and posting comments is that anything can be said, anytime, anywhere on the world wide web. Comments are sometimes passed on to others or become linked to other sites, blogs, or postings. Since many blogs and comments are written anonymously or posted by people using screen names, the identity (and credibility) of the writer is unknown.

Healthcare consumers are increasingly posting comments about healthcare providers on websites, such as RateMDs and Angie's List. There are messages of praise for a particular physician, staff of nurses, or healthcare facility and there are incredibly negative comments as well. Because the web has become a "free for all" and there is no mechanism for validating what people post nor is there regulation of the content that appears on the web, it is impossible to know if what is said is real, imagined, exaggerated, or entirely fabricated. I found one site that is "dedicated to stripping Dr. [name protected] of his medical license" and another site that provided a day-by-day account of the rudeness and perceived incompetence of an ICU nursing staff. Do healthcare consumers recognize that these posts are opinionated, unsubstantiated, and in a few cases, downright inflammatory?

It is unknown if or how these comments are used by healthcare consumers. Scathing comments could damage the reputation of healthcare providers and institutions and possibly cause an economic loss. Conversely, highly recommended healthcare providers and institutions might see an increase in patient visits. These recommended providers could encourage satisfied patients to add their positive comments. It's also possible that healthcare providers use an alias and post glowing comments about themselves (and/or ask relatives and friends to post positive comments).

In the old days (before the World Wide Web was created), healthcare consumers used "word of mouth" to seek out healthcare provider recommendations. This process was usually a one-on-one interaction done in person or over the phone. If someone had something negative to say about a particular physician or healthcare facility, it never had the chance to get too far since it was a private conversation. These days, comments (valid or not) are made public on the World Wide Web.

Healthcare providers now have what's called online or internet defamation to worry about. Although critics argue that everyone has the right to free speech, is blogging about healthcare providers valuable information for consumers?