Healthcare's virtual scoreboard: Data-based physician reviews

Healthgrades' CEO Roger Holstein discusses the growth, and importance, of objective, data-based online physician reviews.

 Remember encyclopedias? Remember snail mail? Remember pull-out road maps?

Every day, such tangible sources of information descend further into the background of our minds, their usefulness ousted by the power of the Internet. Search engines, email and global positioning systems are a few of the niches the Internet has filled in its quest to become the sole information source of current times.

The role of the Internet for healthcare purposes is no different. Patient information is stored electronically and can be accessed with the click of a mouse. Hospitals and health systems are increasingly turning to cloud computing. And, in the booming era of patient engagement and the focus on encouraging patients to take an active role in their healthcare, patients are becoming consumers, shopping online for physicians largely in the same way they shop for anything else.

A recent survey by Software Advice, a reviewer of software applications, found consumer use of online physician reviews increased 68 percent in the last year alone. The survey also showed 61 percent of respondents use online physician reviews before selecting physicians, and 44 percent said they would go out-of-network if the physician had better reviews than those who are in-network.

Yelp, an online customer review site, was the most common site used to read patient reviews (27 percent), followed by Healthgrades (26 percent) and RateMDs (26 percent), according to the survey.

"If you think about all the ways the Internet has changed over the past 15 to 20 years, there's probably nothing we can't get today," says Roger Holstein, CEO of Healthgrades. "What the Internet has fundamentally done in healthcare is spark a revolution."

Mr. Holstein is a seasoned professional in the health IT field. Before his current position with Healthgrades, he was CEO, president and director of WebMD Corp., among other positions, helping to grow the company into the popular online source of health information today.

"The Internet is the primary way people access health information today," Mr. Holstein adds.

That being so, the issue that follows is how to make sure the information is accurate, useful and objective. What's the point of having information if it is false, not actionable and biased — especially in a field like healthcare?

There are, Mr. Holstein points out, objective tools to compare other products, such as houses for sale and hotels, mentioning sites such as Zillow and TripAdvisor, which allow consumers to compare objective measures.

This is Healthgrades' mission, to provide this data in the healthcare arena. Mr. Holstein says healthcare consumers, until recently, did not have such objective information.

"Most people know very little about physicians because insurance companies have taught us three things: Am I covered? Are they available? And are they close by?" Mr. Holstein says. "That's what PPOs and HMOs have done for years: reduced this to a commodity."

Mr. Holstein continues, "next to choosing a spouse, choosing a provider is one of the most important personal relationships that we have. It's an intimate relationship at some level, yet how much do we really know about the physicians that treat us?"

To address this, Healthgrades recently launched a new physician search platform with an algorithm that analyzes a different set of criteria, one that considers what physicians themselves look for when making referrals for their patients.

The new algorithm looks at physician case volume or their experience treating a particular disease or procedure, patient satisfaction with the physician, and hospital clinical outcomes.

"When you expose consumers who are making a decision about a specialist or a primary care provider to information they have not had before like [physician] experience and you give them accurate information about outcomes, you also give them feedback on how patients think about their doctor," Mr. Holstein says. "When you give that information to consumers, their behavior changes dramatically, and they make a very different decision than the one they have made in the past, which is what the insurance company taught them."

Such transparency surrounding clinical information also directly affects physicians, Mr. Holstein says, as physicians are making it a priority to manage their own online reputations. He says physicians are increasingly verifying their information online to be sure it is accurate and comprehensive, in turn making them more relevant for patients who are searching the Internet for providers.

Transparency becomes a vehicle for accountability.

"Fundamentally, the Internet has allowed us to be transparent in an area that has always been opaque," Mr. Holstein says.

And while healthcare decisions are give-and-take, requiring input from both the patient and provider, they should be made with the highest quality of information.

"Healthcare decisions are ones that we make infrequently, but when we make these decisions they can be a matter of life and death," Mr. Holstein says. "When faced with these decisions, we should have access to to objective information so we can make the right choice."

More articles on physician reviews:

How to handle negative online reviews
10 Cities Where Patients are Most or Least Happy With Physicians
Study: 1 in 4 Patients Check Online Physician Reviews

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