How to Choose Your Doctor Online…and Annoy the AMA

A recent poll by the California HealthCare Foundation found that even though a substantial amount of patients use the Internet to obtain their health information, few patients make use of the physician rating sites, and fewer still (2%) used the information available to change their physician. However, this could change as more people become aware of the availability of this “service” and insurers push patients to use them.

The AMA has certainly voiced their reservations about this practice. The push for these types of sites seems to be coming from insurers in tiered networks.

“In such networks, health plan members pay less out of pocket for seeing physicians who meet the insurer’s quality criteria, which doctors generally have criticized as faulty.”

-P. Dolan (http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2008/06/23/bil10623.htm)

The author goes on to say,

“Much of the growth in physician ratings sites have come from health plans pushing a consumer-driven approach to health care.”

Also of concern, according to Dolan, are insurer-based sites that allow patients to post unproven comments regarding their doctors, a practice that seems dangerously close to the definition of libel. The legal definition of libel is “a false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person.”

Patients should be aware that there might be ulterior motives to these sites before taking advantage of the information contained within. It is doubtful that insurance companies are sponsoring some of these sites simply for altruistic reasons; rather, they are hoping that they will be able to steer their customers to doctors that fit into their system in terms of cost-efficiency.

As for whether or not it can be considered libel to make potentially career-altering statements about physicians online, patients should take these statements with a grain of salt, as they must for a lot of information found on the web that is often misleading or blatantly false.

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