Customer satisfaction in healthcare

    Doctors are the latest subject of consumer reviews.

    Consumer rating websites can be useful in making decisions about where to eat or which mechanic to use. And now, websites are offering customer satisfaction reviews for health care. The sites have stirred up mixed reviews of their own.

    Listen: [audio:090812kgratings.mp3]

    This month, Consumer Reports expanded its hospital reviews. For the past year, the results have focused on the type of care patients received. Now, members can read how pleased patients were with that care.

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    Nancy Metcalf is the senior program editor for Consumer Reports.

    Metcalf: The survey asks about all kinds of things, including was your room clean? Did the people in the hospital explain to you what medications you were taking and what they were for? Did they control your pain if you had pain?

    This differs from websites like Leap Frog or Health Grades, which focus on objective quality and safety measures.

    Rutz: Consumers crave this kind of stuff. They have not thought about healthcare in this way.

    That’s Angie’s List vice president for Health, Mike Rutz. His group allows members to rank doctors, dentists, nursing homes and other groups, based on their subjective experiences. The company says it receives 13,000 new medical reviews each month.

    Rutz: We think consumers need to be better, smarter patients and smarter consumers when it comes to healthcare.

    As it turns out, satisfaction with medical care actually matters — to a person’s health.


    Medical Consumer Rating Websites:

    Consumer Reports

    Angie’s List



    Katrina Armstrong is the chief of internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She says trust in a physician is tied to how well people adhere to prescriptions and follow up care. And that can affect how healthy we are.

    Armstrong: How well controlled our diabetes is, how well controlled our hypertension is and many outcomes including even mortality.

    So, choosing a trustworthy doctor from reviews online could actually be good for our health? Not necessarily.

    Stadler: Most of the sites out there are constructed with so many flaws.

    Shane Stadler is the spokesman for the doctor group Medical Justice. He says there are rarely standardized measures or vetting for accuracy. Some websites merely provide a forum for publishing anonymous rants. In general each one comes with its own caveats and degree of scientific rigor.

    Knieser: I’m pretty skeptical of those.

    Cynthia Knieser lives in Yardley. She says she uses sites like Angie’s list for services like home repair contractors. Basic information she’d appreciate, like whether a dermatologist has evening office hours or if the staff calls back within one day.

    But to have a lay person whose education I’m not familiar with, whose situation I’m not familiar with tell me whether or not they can effectively treat a skin condition or some other issue, I just don’t think that that’s relevant.

    Some in the medical community say reviews can be damaging to a doctor’s reputation, or his business.

    Medical Justice provides its members with a form for patients to sign, that says patients will not publish anything without the doctor’s approval.

    Again, Shane Stadler.

    Stadler: Generally in the US, free speech is countered with more free speech. With physicians, they’re precluded from that option. There’s HIPAA, there’s state and federal privacy laws.

    The approach has been called a gag order, but Stadler says it’s the only recourse doctors have for unpoliced comments.

    Richard Wender is a doctor at Thomas Jefferson University. He says patients should not base healthcare decisions solely on consumer reviews.

    Wender: On the flip side, I think completely dismissing them is probably a mistake as well.

    Wender says patient reviews will likely play a larger role in the trend toward publicly reporting information about the quality of care.

    And the more people who chose to chime in, the more accurate that information will become.

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