Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Open Letter to HealthGrades: Are Online Doctor Reviews Always Valid?

I Googled myself recently to discover a one-star rating of my practice on HealthGrades.  The rating wasn't just a rating on the HealthGrades site, it showed up on the top of the first page of search results, a public announcement to anyone who Googles me.  

I contacted HealthGrades and asked them to please investigate as I did not believe this was a review from one of my patients.  Because the facts in the review were simply inaccurate, the one-star review of all aspects of my practice seemed to be vindictive, not an accurate assessment of my psychiatric practice. 

On our Clinical Psychiatry News website, I  will discuss in more detail what happened transpired when I asked HealthGrades to investigate.  To those who hate waiting for end of the story: They took it down.  
Here, I want to tell HealthGrades why I don't believe this was posted by any of my patients.  Below is my open letter to the HealthGrades leadership team

Dear HealthGrades:

You've taken the liberty of listing me on your site without my permission.  You've put up my name, an incorrect address with a click-on map providing directions to my previous office, my age (which this week, I'm feeling a bit touchy about), medical training, an inaccurate list of insurance companies which you claim I participate with,  and you've provided a venue for any human being with Internet access to post a review and write comments about me. There is nothing to assure that a review wasn't written by a neighbor who is  angry that my dog got into their yard, by one of the 47 commenters who has asserted that I'm an idiot for writing a Baltimore Sun op-ed piece in opposition to medical marijuana legislation,  by  someone who disagrees with something I have to say here on Shrink Rap (where we do periodically host some discord),  or by a patient who is displeased that I won't prescribe an addictive medication that is not indicated for their condition. There is also nothing to prevent me from posting 5 star reviews of myself.

Many patients Google doctors before they see them, and whether or not you believe a single review (there is only one) has any weight, at some level, people see it and process it.  I Google my doctors before I schedule a first appointment, and I might not go to someone with a one-star review.  All in all, I feel violated that you've posted this information and have permitted an unchecked venue for all commenters.   The one-star appearance on my Google search page may damage my professional reputation and may have financial repercussions for me.  Certainly there are bad doctors out there, but I am not one of them, and allowing an unverified reviewer to say that every aspect of my practice is unacceptably poor, constitutes slander.

I don't believe that the review was written by one of my patients, and let me go through each of my one-star items and tell you why I think this was an internet hater and not someone who knows me.

I've copied and pasted the HealthGrades categories you've established for doctors to be rated on.  For each of these categories, I was rated one-star out of a possible five stars.
Scheduling Appointments:
Ease of scheduling urgent appointments when you feel ill:
-----Any established patient who calls and says their problem is an emergency is seen that day or the next. Every patient is given my cell and home phone numbers before our first meeting, I respond to calls and texts within the day, sooner if they are urgent, and I do my own scheduling.  It generally takes days, and not weeks, to get an appointment, even on a non-urgent basis.

Office Environment:
Office environment (cleanliness, comfort, lighting, temperature, location):
----- These are individual taste issues.  The office was built out to my specifications, with neutral decor and a fair amount of attention to the environmental factors that I can control.  It is in a professional building, in a safe part of town, surrounded by shops and restaurants, and a janitorial service cleans the suite on a daily basis.   

Office Friendliness:                                                       
Friendliness and courtesy of the office staff:
----- I don't have office staff, but I wish I did.

Wait Time:
Once you arrive for a scheduled appointment, how long do you have to wait (including waiting room and exam room) before you see this provider:
----- In 20 years, I have never run 45 minutes late.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have run 10 minutes late. I start almost every session within 5 minutes of the scheduled appointment time.

response:Over 45 Minutes

About Dr. Dinah

Level of Trust:
Do you trust your provider to make decisions / recommendations that are in your best interests?
--- I can't fully address this-- trust is something that happens inside an individual's head.  I certainly believe that I have my patient's best interests in mind when I make a recommendation, people often tell me they trust me, and no one has ever said that they don't trust me.

Helps Patients Understand Their Condition:
Does the provider help you understand your medical condition(s)?
---  I believe I'm actually pretty good at articulating psychiatric conditions, I've had a bit of practice over the years.  

Listens and Answers Questions:
Does the provider listen to you and answer your questions?
--- I always ask new patients if they have any questions.  I  invite people to call or text me if they have concerns between sessions. I practice psychotherapy, so by definition, I listen.

Time Spent with Patient:
Do you feel the provider spends an appropriate amount of time with you?
-- I spend two hours on the first evaluation  and 50-55 minutes with each subsequent therapy session, unless a patient specifically wants a half hour session.  I'm happy to schedule longer appointments with anyone who'd like them, but no one has ever asked.

The response I got from HealthGrades, which I'm perplexed by, but not completely  displeased with, is that because I'm in the mental health field, they will take the review down.  They did not attempt to reach the reviewer.

If you are a mental health professional and want those bad reviews to vanish, remember to check your profile daily, and remember to request to have those ratings removed.  Funny, they don't publish this policy anywhere, so I'm taking the liberty of doing it for them.  If you're a patient looking for a good psychiatrist, remember that those with good reviews aren't going to ask to have them removed, so the ratings are biased in favor of the clinician.  From what I can tell, this site serves no one well.

HealthGrades' email address and a contact form are easily found on their website, and if that doesn't work, their phone number is 303-716-0041.  I got to a live person fairly easily and there was no wait.

Addendum: I wrote to their public relations person and asked them to remove my profile, and it was removed this morning. 

For more about my interactions with HealthGrades, see the Clinical Psychiatry New article Here.