Does a Yelp Help?

In a world where online rating services are a key part of commerce, we have to ask ourselves: Is choosing a plumber, babysitter, hotel, restaurant, or pair of running shoes in the same category as choosing your physician?

In the past decade, the use of online surveys, grading systems, star ratings, and consumer free text reports has driven the majority of American consumer choices when it comes to travel, dining choices, shopping, and home services. In fact, in my own smartphone, I have total of six apps for this very purpose: assessing the ‘best’ choice when it comes to an experience.

Many healthcare institutions in the US have published online "provider transparency" models for the public in an effort to accurately grade physicians based on large databases of patient ratings and comments in a professional but unbiased fashion. Studies have shown that institutions that employ these measures display improved patient satisfaction in the months/years following induction of these rating systems.

To expose both sides of the coin, physicians who read carefully their ratings and comments and objectively look for trends for improvement will take these published reports to heart, and patient care can only improve. Those physicians who underperform or provide substandard care would hopefully display a measurably lower rating score and may be then part of improvement plans within his/her institution. Perhaps these individuals do not have the capacity or desire to change or improve, but patients would have an informed choice about where to seek their medical care.

On the other hand, between physicians that all perform well, does an online rating system merely place an anxiety on physicians' minds that an unsatisfied individual or comment could downplay the excellent care they deliver? Like waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop? For lightning to strike? For the health department to find an ant in their Michelin-star kitchen?

These rating systems and comments provide no format for physician comment due to HIPAA and other restrictions, so if a patient writes online about poor medical care but never filled his/her prescriptions or never returned for follow-up appointments or acknowledged office calls or reminders, the patient comment is unilateral and has a potent online presence. The right to rant is unmonitored, and the provider then waits for the comment to be diluted again by positive ones.

As consumers and as providers of healthcare, we’ve learned that most comments are from people who are very satisfied or very unsatisfied, and the reality of the experience/person/service lies somewhere in the middle on most occasions.

In an environment where blog-type ranting is accepted in everyday society, the question we have to ask ourselves as healthcare providers and healthcare consumers: Is choosing a plumber, babysitter, hotel, restaurant, or pair of running shoes in the same category as choosing your physician?