Online Physician Ratings: Have you been praised--or panned--on Angie's List yet?

April 11, 2008

This company's website lets you read and write reviews about plumbers, house painters, and other service providers in your community. Now physicians are fair game. But is that fair?

This company’s website lets you read and write reviews about plumbers, house painters, and other service providers in your community. Now physicians are fair game. But is that fair?

Angie’s List announced last month that it was adding physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and other healthcare providers to the mix of businesses that it holds up to scrutiny. The consumer review service is the latest example of how physicians find themselves rated online, whether it’s under the auspices of a health insurer or specialized forums such as DoctorsScorecard.com, HealthGrades, and Revolution Health. With 600,000 members in 124 cities, Angie’s List gives considerable oomph to this trend. Membership costs $4.50 per month or $35.25 annually, plus a $10 sign-up fee.

Besides rating doctors on such general criteria as price, quality, and professionalism, members of Angie’s List answer such healthcare-specific questions as:

  • Was the office staff helpful and courteous?

  • Were the waiting and examination areas clean and comfortable? 

  • Did the office staff file insurance claims for you (if applicable)? 

  • Did the physician explain things in a way that you could understand?

  • Did you feel you could make your concerns understood to the physician?

  • Did your physician (or office staff) follow up with you to determine if the treatment was effective?

  • What did you like most/least about this physician?

  • What words of advice would you give other members considering this physician?

Some physicians have questioned the validity of being rated online by patients, and the reaction to Angie’s List is no different. “The concept is good, but how do you determine if the info-both good and bad-is accurate?” asks FP Fred Porcase in Jacksonville, FL. FP Beth Pector in Naperville, IL, notes that many of the questions posed by Angie’s List don’t have anything to do with medical care. “When doctor evaluation is reduced to a popularity contest, we're no longer professionals and are just another service commodity,” says Pector.

Other doctors, however, view Angie’s List as a wake-up call for their profession to improve customer service. “When physicians ceded control of the medicine they practice to insurance companies, medicine-at least primary care- was reduced to below the level of auto mechanics,” says Denver FP Jonathan Sheldon, a cash-only doctor operating outside the insurance realm. “My mechanic returns my calls, schedules realistically, and takes responsibility for every aspect of the experience I have at his shop.”

Physicians also gripe that online rating forums allow reviewers to remain anonymous, making it easier for them to throw bombshells at a particular business. Angie’s List remedies that problem in two ways, says namesake founder and chief marketing officer Angie Hicks. Only members can post reviews, says Hicks, “so we know who they are.” And while a published review omits the author’s name, the business in question can ask to see who wrote it. Angie’s List also informs businesses when they are reviewed and offers them the opportunity to post a response free of charge.

To prevent a consumer from gaming the rating system, Angie’s List limits members to one review in a particular service category every six months. Members must agree not to submit any comments that are libelous, defamatory, or inaccurate. Hicks says Angie’s List employees read every business review with these restrictions in mind before it ever gets posted online.

 “If we question the validity of a report, we pull it out,” says Hicks. “The integrity of our data is the most important thing.”