Need a doctor? Are you searching online? If so, you're probably wondering, what does a five-star-rating for a doctor really mean?
Health care safety advocate Dr. Robert Wachter tells NPR News how he would go about finding a doctor online. First of all, when it comes to doctors being rated by their own patients, Dr. Wachter warns that going solely on patient ratings may not be the most scientific way to go about deciding on a doctor.
Patient ratings are useful in that they give you an insight into other patients' experiences and the quality of the patient-physician relationship. But a patient's review may fall short in giving you an overall idea of that doctor's experience and level of quality care:
But while the touchy-feely part of the patient-doctor relationship is definitely important, choosing a doctor solely on superficial qualities can be a "disaster," says Dr. Robert Wachter, author of Internal Bleeding, a book about medical mistakes in America.
"Spectacularly good doctors every now and then have patients who die. Terrible doctors most of the time have patients who do just fine," Wachter says. "So when you look at one experience and try to extrapolate from that, 'Is this the person I want opening my chest up and fixing my heart?' — scientifically it's not the way you would want to go."
He says patient reviews are skewed because they're usually only written by people who either hate or love their doctors.
Dr. Wachter also mistrusts insurance companies rating their own doctors. However, he says that these sites may be helpful in that they reveal how many procedures the doctor has performed, which is important in choosing a skilled doctor:
"If all else is equal, I would rather see the doctor who's done this particular surgery that I need a hundred times as compared to the doctor who's done it three times," Wachter says. "There is in medicine, like many things in life, a practice-makes-perfect kind of curve."
So, what to look for in a five star physician-rating website? According to the article you should look for an independent database that gives a full picture of a doctor's background - where they went to school, year of graduation, board certification in their expertise, how long they've been in practice. This is the only way, as Dr. Watchter would put it, "to make truly informed rational choices."
Dr. Robert M. Wachter, MD, coined the term "hospitalist" in a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine article. He is generally considered the academic leader of the hospitalist movement, the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine. He is also a national leader in the fields of patient safety and healthcare quality.
He Chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine, and Chief of the Medical Service at UCSF Medical Center. He has published 200 articles and 6 books in the fields of quality, safety, and health policy.