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Are review sites good for what ails health care?

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This post is by Adam Gaub, Lead Editor of SmartBrief for Health Care Marketers.

There are already a number of social-media sites available for consumers to see the good and the bad about prospective doctors and hospitals, but now the publication best known for its rankings of the good and not-so-good in the business world is getting into the act.

This week, Consumer Reports published an online list of more than 200 medical groups that perform heart bypass surgery, ranking them on a three-level scale. Their rankings are based on data that comes from an evaluation conducted by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons — with some qualms from some of its members.

Of prime concern for many, STS chairman of quality and research Dr. Fred Edwards told The New York Times, is the notion that the ratings can misrepresent the success or inexperience of a particular group.

“What if you’re the sickest patient they’ve seen in three years?” Edwards asked, revealing a concern that practices that take on tougher cases may get rated lower simply because the surgery outcomes aren’t always as successful as those that don’t.

While it may not be a perfect system, it’s a sign the medical community is beginning to respond to the world of social media, where doctors and many other service providers can find themselves at the mercy of semi-anonymous online reviewers. Some choose to reach out directly to patients, with sites such as tracking the exposure and re-tweetability of the information posted by doctors — from the well-known, such as Dr. Drew and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to your local pediatrician.

Massachusetts-based physician Dr. Tara Lagu recently wrote a paper on the sites, such as, which are used by the public to post and peruse reviews of local doctors. Lagu told the Boston Globe in an interview last month that while patients aren’t simply going to believe everything they read online, doctors could do a better job of interacting with patients via the social-media realm.

“I think doctors don’t recognize the whole patient experience, but patients do: whether the parking was accessible and whether the receptionist was polite and whether they got into the room and sat for 45 minutes or whether they were seen promptly and were able to communicate with the doctor in a way that was pleasing to them,” Lagu said. “It is notable we saw very few reviews saying they got the wrong diagnosis, or surgery was bad.”

Lagu’s point is well-taken — often the experience of the patient has little to do with whether they got the proper treatment, but the entire process of getting said treatment. In a country where health insurance will soon be all but required, physicians and others in the health care industry need to gather as much information from the public as they can — and be willing to demonstrate that they are learning from it.

The STS ratings release is a good first step.

Image credit, broken3, via iStockphoto