Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reading Doctor Review Sites

Today, I head to a Rheumotalogist. This is a doctor who, according to dictionary.com, "mainly deal with clinical problems involving joints, soft tissues and allied conditions of connective tissues". In the least decade or so, they've also been tapped into for their skills in autoimmunology. In Las Vegas, a doctor who is skilled is a rarity, and a doctor who has compassion is nearly unheard of-and today, I ran across a professional who is both.

Dr. Timothy Kelly has practiced for 21 years, studying here in Nevada, and keeping his practice in the land of silicon breasts and dancers knees. I read about Dr. Kelly after being referred to him. I had typed his name into Google and Yahoo, and found listings of about a dozen "Doctor Rating Services".

The internet has spawned a plethora of sites that cater to what "sucks" and what "fails", but it's rare to find any site that promotes the positive aspects of anyone or anything. It seems the medical community has been the breeding ground for sites that are venomous at best. In fact, I was told my own blog- which is completely based on personal experiences- can be viewed as a direct slam of the medical community at large. In fact, it's a warning notice for those who want to avoid the painful results of badly managed health care. And today, it's a grateful acknowledgment that there are doctors who believe in the ethic of "First, do NO harm." But, I wanted to point out a few of the "review" sites, for your own bookmarks.

I found one complaint on Dr. Kelly. One. It was listed on several sites, however, and that is one of the issues I have with any sites that claim to offer reports. A single source becomes the only source of information for most. There is a sharing of information based on Search Engine discovery. Or, there is a single person who signs on to multiple sites, copying and pasting the same complaint. When you search a doctor's name- you will then find dozens of complaints listed, while reading further apprises you to the fact that there is a sole complaint. It's how I read the same report a few dozen times on St. Rose Hospital last week regarding their billing department failure for one patient. Search engines listed three complaints against Dr. Kelly, and it turned out to be the same one complaint from a Fibromyalgia patient who didn't get the response she needed from him.

When I walked into Dr. Kelly's office, I met his staff, who were fun, lively, and didn't make me feel inferior in any way. The office is the first one in the medical center, meaning those of us who use walking assistance don't have to struggle far. Dr. Kelly walked in to meet me just a short time after I filled out paperwork, and he was probably the most attentive doctor I have met in at least 20 years. He read my history, and he looked through my medications. He talked to me with empathy, and true understanding of my condition. He made me feel human. It was a breakthrough for the treatment I've received over the last few years which has been hurried at best. He knew my condition well, understood what I was supposed to be concerned with at this stage, and got that my disability was often a struggle for me. I really LIKED this doctor. I left there feeling a renewed hope that my primary care doctor would get a comprehensive understanding of my condition from this specialist. Now comes my duty as a patient advocate- I have to let all the Doctor Rating Sites know of the positive aspect of his practice, to counter the one comment of negative I found- and I found to be not remotely close to my experience.

What sites offer Doctor ratings via patient input? Which ones are reliable, or which are mostly great at finding information regarding licensing censures or other decisions passed down through AMA? First, start with your state medical board. The California Medical Board site has a great example of how you can view the history of your doctor. You simply do a search of the name, and you can see if any cases or complaints were filed. Most state websites have this available in the United States. Overseas, you may need to view the agency that gave your doctor credentials. In these instances, you view factual information and you don't get the full story- as it generally is protected by law.

But there are sites that are available for your input. One of these is RateMDs.com, and the failure of this sort of site is the basic issue of not having a well-rounded review of a doctor from a polled pool of patients. You get gut responses from people who have strong opinions. Other sites offer doctor information- as paid for by the physician, but don't carry listings of ratings. The doctor pays to be listed on a review site, and hopes that the patients will sing praises to the world.

Companies like HarrisPollOnline.com monitor patient responses regarding general health care, specific medical organizations, or even specific practices. Kaiser Health and other organizations use polling companies to help determine the areas that need to be improved upon, and others that have done well. If you want to make a change in the health system, you would do well to respond to surveys that are directly impacting the organization which carry your doctors.

But, if you want a general overall feel of what your upcoming appointment will be like in a practice- sites such as CitySearch or even Local.Yahoo, because the comments placed on these portals are similar to those you'd find for ANYONE you'd employ. You'll find a doctor rating in your local strip mall next to the rating for the pizza parlor in the same strip mall. The information is less personal, but offers customer service responses rather than detailed medical procedural information.

In the last six months, several well established medical journals have complained harshly against sites such as RateMD.com or HealthGrades.com. Most validly point out that the doctor doesn't have any chance to offer his side of a rant. But, those of us who are willing to read past a complaint will get information we need. If, for instance, one person appears to rail against a practice, yet doesn't offer specifics, it will generally come across as bad apples, and not as factual information. If specifics are clear, and seem to echo others' opinions, then a patient is better armed against what may be an unpleasant appointment. A wise patient will also note if the same person seems to rant against ALL doctors he or she comes across. It's true that most health care agencies are struggling against negative comments, but it's also true that one person doesn't speak for hundreds who may have another experience.

Those of us who do want to change the way patients are treated for specific illnesses, specific issues, and even by specific agencies, do so by actively contacting and educating our medical professionals. We spend time educating others regarding our own conditions. We may have occasion to point out failures publicly, as a warning to both patient AND medical facility... we want our Patient's Rights to be adhered to, and we want doctors to First Do No Harm. Last week, I had an experience that was a result of mishandled care by nurses and doctors in an emergency room. This week, I had the experience of having a caring, compassionate doctor who was willing to listen. Unfortunately, the complaints will make more people pay attention than the praises. That is the stripes of the tiger known as Internet.

Today's Questions- What sites do you find useful in learning about medical professionals? Have you decided to not use, or to use, a specific practice based on comments left online? What positive things have you learned by researching your doctors? Negative?

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