Online physician rankings can boost, harm a practice

March 1, 2010

Love or loathe them, public Web sites that let patients rate their physicians aren't going away, experts say. Making these sites work for you rather than against you requires ongoing vigilance, broad-based patient participation and - for some physicians - patient contracts, they add.

Key Points

Editor's note: In this issue, we explore Web sites that allow patients to "rate" their doctors, as well as steps you can take if false or unjustified negative comments appear about you or your practice. Also, read more online at http://www.dermatologytimes.com/Residents to learn how residents say such sites are helping them to grow professionally.

National report - Love or loathe them, public Web sites that let patients rate their physicians aren't going away, experts say.

Most physicians are uncomfortable with online rating sites, says Jeffrey Segal, M.D., J.D., CEO of Medical Justice, a company that helps physicians fight online defamation. Such sites can represent "the dark side of the Internet," he says.

"The good sites are good; the bad ones are really bad," adds Beth Santmyire-Rosenberger, M.D., a Fairmont, W.V., private practitioner whose patients have used such sites.

Dr. Narurkar says that in his case, a succession of personal attacks on http://yelp.com/ convinced him he was being stalked.

One post said Dr. Narurkar treats medical patients disrespectfully because he'd rather do expensive aesthetic procedures.

"I only do aesthetic procedures. Patients know that coming in," he says, adding that he never could determine whether an actual patient made these remarks. "None of the reviews had anything bad to say about my performance" medically, he says.

Dr. Narurkar says he complained about the negative comment to the site's managers, who investigated the matter. Days later, "They removed the reviews. But even seconds on the Internet can damage your reputation."

Another post called Dr. Narurkar "fancy" because he had attended private schools (his educational background is available online).

"The http://yelp.com/ people called me saying that this was posted," he said. Dr. Narurkar says the caller insinuated that the dig would disappear if he advertised on the site.

Because of the nature of the post, Dr. Narurkar said, "I was afraid for my own personal safety," and he called the police. He said after he informed http://yelp.com/ that he'd discussed the matter with police (though he made no formal report at the time), "The review vanished."

Stephanie Ichinose, http://yelp.com/ director of communications, says she cannot access details of Dr. Narurkar's incident, or determine the number of similar complaints http://yelp.com/ receives. However, she adds, http://yelp.com/ absolutely does not let advertisers manipulate reviews, outside of choosing a favorite to lead the list.

Potential clients may misinterpret such details during sales calls, she says. Non-sponsors can report suspicious postings to site managers, and respond to reviewers publicly or privately, for free, she adds.

The fact that Dr. Narurkar called police wouldn't have affected http://yelp.com/'s decision to remove a posting, Ms. Ichinose says. "There must have been something in it" that violated http://yelp.com/'s guidelines, she says.

Related Content:

News | Practice Management