Monday, February 18, 2008

Are You a Five-Star Doctor?

Two major health insurers now host websites that allow patients to post "comments" and "rankings" of doctors and hospitals. Both sites allow anyone with an email address to post a comment or a "health care story." I logged onto the on-line community hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, otherwise known as the Minnesota Blues. ( I read the 14 emergency medicine comments. Then I read comments in the other categories. Then I looked for my name. I heaved a sigh of relief when I discovered no comments with my name attached.

WellPoint launched a similar site the first week of January for selected areas of the country. Their site includes a Zagat-type score based on the rater's evaluation of their physician's trust, communication, availability and environment. The reviewer is also allowed to make free-text comments about the physician in question. WellPoint limits participation to members.

I absolutely believe in free speech and I (obviously) believe in the use of technology to aid communication. I'm left with this question, though. Why would an insurance company collect patient comments and ratings on physicians, clinics, and hospitals?

Now that I think about it, I have more questions. Why would an insurance company allow anyone with an email address to leave a comment about a physician without any assurance that the person posting had actually seen that physician? Why is the physician (or any other reader) not allowed to know who made the comment? Will these comments/ratings eventually be used to determine reimbursement by the insurance company? Will popularity trump ability in the field of medicine?

Last but not least, does the physician-patient relationship benefit from the existence of these websites?

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