Caught in the World Wide Web
Know what’s being said about you
By Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA
Having your own Web site is great. There, at least, you can control what’s said about you. But even if you don’t have a personal, practice or OrthoDoc Web site, you should realize that your patients can find you on the Web…and you ought to know what they’re finding.
The Internet is a great source of health care information, and an estimated 75 percent of patients use it. Each month, consumers in the United States alone conduct more than 50 million health care searches. As any physician knows, plenty of health care information on the Internet is just junk. And that goes for information about physicians as well.
With the growing emphasis on quality reports and the increasing availability of this data on the Internet, AAOS fellows need to be aware of who is generating the reports, what they contain, how accurate they are and what can be done to correct errors.
I recently did a Google search for myself. It’s easy enough to do, and everyone ought to try it at least once a year. Simply type your name, in quotes, in the search box at www.google.com or another search engine.
My Google search turned up more than 435 Web pages; a similar search on Yahoo.com yielded 140 links. Someone clicking through that list would quickly learn about my background and current position, meetings I’ve attended, articles I’ve written, quotes I’ve given to the media, even political donations I’ve made. I’m no longer affiliated with a hospital, but if you are, you’ll find links to all of your hospital’s Web pages that list your name as well. There are also numerous links to physician rating sites. When you see one, click on it to follow up on the accuracy of information shown.
Physician rating sites
Several Web sites provide consumers with information about doctors, but because these sites obtain their information from other public and government sources, the information may be inaccurate or out-of-date. In addition, the criteria used to rate physicians differ from site to site. To ensure that the information about yourself is correct, you need to visit the site, access your profile, check the information and take the steps necessary to update or correct it. All of these sites charge consumers a minimal fee (about $7-$10) to obtain a report; some provide physicians with a free personal report for review and updating.
HealthGrades is a health care quality ratings and services company that provides online hospital report cards, physician quality reports and nursing home quality reports. Consumers can request information on a specific physician, or establish personal preferences and receive a comparison report on up to 20 physicians. The reports include information on:
• Education and training (specialty, residency and internship, fellowships)
• Years in practice
• Board certification (specialty)
• Any governmental disciplinary actions within five years (state and federal disciplinary actions, not medical liability or lawsuit information)
• Physician characteristics (gender, foreign languages spoken)
• Comparison to national data based on experience, certification and governmental disciplinary actions
• Quality ratings for area hospitals, even if the physician is not affiliated with the hospital
• Additional questions that a consumer should ask a physician
ChoicePoint, a data collection service, operates ChoiceTrust, another physician rating site. Using public records (databases) and publicly available information (transaction information), ChoiceTrust compiles records into a searchable database. A HealthPulse Doctor Credential History Report from ChoiceTrust includes the same basic information as HealthGrades (education and training, board certification, years in practice). The following information is also included:
• Registration with the Drug Enforcement Administration
• Expired and current licensure
• License-related actions by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (Medicare/Medicaid fraud) and state Medical Disciplinary Boards
The Federation of State Medical Boards operates DocInfo (www.docinfo.org), which provides the “most comprehensive nationally consolidated data bank of disciplinary history on U.S. licensed physicians,” according to the site.
A new approach to physician ratings is the consumer scoring Web site, such as DrScore. This site enables patients to rate their physicians and view other patients’ ratings; it also offers physicians the opportunity to view summaries of their ratings and receive detailed reports. Run by a physician (Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD), DrScore provides basic background information on a physicians as well as comments by patients.
Ratings are based on the patient’s perception of the physician’s attitude, thoroughness, time spent, care instructions, decision-making, communication of test results, follow-up and treatment success. Office ratings include friendliness and courtesy of staff, wait times, parking and location, after-hours access to help and referrals.
Visitors to the site can rate physicians and view ratings for free; physicians can view summaries of their ratings through the site or purchase more detailed reports of the data.
Is it accurate?
The best way for an AAOS member to determine the accuracy of any of these reporting sites is to visit them and see for yourself. Because many of these sites get their information from other public databases, making corrections may not be easy. The timeliness of updates is another issue. If the source database is only updated on a quarterly basis, it may be several months before the correction appears on the rating site.
Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, is the AAOS executive director of medical affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com