Periodically, I Google myself and check to see what’s on the first few pages of the Google search results. I do this because I assume that patients, and particularly new patients, Google their doctors. Some tell me they do, and one patient said she decided I must be okay because she had read a review I had written on Amazon, and since we liked the same novel, I couldn’t be too bad. Usually, the search results reveal predictable results: They lead people to my books or articles I’ve written, or to the exploits of the other Dinah Millers of the world (there are, in fact, a few of us).
A few weeks ago, I Googled myself to find a surprise: at the top of the first page of search results, there was my name and a one-star notation from the HealthGrades.com website. I clicked on it to learn that my practice had been reviewed and, across the board, I was a lousy psychiatrist, a single-star (out of a possible 5 stars) in all aspects of my practice, never to be recommended to friends, with an average wait time exceeding 45 minutes. The listed information listed by HealthGrades included my age, an incorrect address with an offer to map directions for the reader, my educational and training background, an incorrect list of insurance panels with whom I participate, and the fact that there are no sanctions or lawsuits against me. I may be a one-star doc, but at the bottom of my page the site lists three 5-star doctors – in case a prospective patient wants to do better? The first doctor is a familiar name, but I’m a psychiatrist and he’s an oncologist. I didn’t realize we were interchangeable.
I surfed around the HealthGrades site and plugged in my specialty and the city where I live. The first doctor on their list moved to Texas two years ago. Some of those listed have moved, some are not psychiatrists, and a few are dead. Of the 350 names I perused, few have any ratings at all, and of those who do, most have a single 5-star review. I am the lone one-star psychiatrist in my major metropolitan area.
At first, I didn’t care, but as the days went by, it started to eat at me. I didn’t believe this was written by a patient – I’m not aware of any vindictive patients and the things that are reported are simply not true. It’s not difficult to get an appointment with me and I don’t spend too little time with patients – I give all patients my cell and home phone numbers before they come in for the initial, two-hour evaluation. My staff isn’t discourteous or unfriendly: I don’t have a staff. And in 20 years, I can’t ever recall running more than 10 minutes late, and I generally start right on time.
Our Shrink Rap blog has, at times, attracted readers who feel injured by psychiatrists and psychotropic medications, and our editorial in the Baltimore Sun opposing legislation to legalize medical marijuana did nothing for my popularity in cyberspace. I assumed the reviewer might be related to the person who posted a one-star review of our Shrink Rap book on Amazon before the book was even released. If the rating was on the HealthGrades website alone, I would never have known about it, but anyone who Googles my name is led straight to the one-star rating.
I asked around and I was told there was nothing to do, no one pays attention to these things, and I shouldn’t worry about it. I e-mailed Kevin Pho, the creator of the KevinMD medical blog, who is working on a book about physicians’ online reputations.
Dr. Pho replied: “The prospect of having an online presence is a frightening proposition for many physicians. But if they don't proactively define themselves online, someone else is going to do it for them. An online reputation is just as important as a reputation within the community. Doctors should use social media profiles, like a LinkedIn profile or Facebook page, to create their own digital footprint with information they create and control.”
I already have a digital footprint, and HealthGrades seems to trump whatever that might be, so I decided to contact the company and ask that they investigate on the grounds that I did not believe this was a valid patient review. I sent an e-mail, and filled in the same information on their contact sheet. I followed up with another e-mail the next day, and five days later, I called HealthGrades.
HealthGrades is an Internet company, founded in 1995, with a mission to improve health care by rating hospitals, specialties, and procedures. Its annual revenues exceed $27 million a year. Providing an open venue for Internet users to rate physicians is only a small part of what they do.
I spoke with an investigator at HealthGrades on May 21, 2012. He said an investigation was underway and would could take up to 10 business days. I asked for the email address of the person who had written the review and was told that could not be released because of confidentiality. Wait, an anonymous person who may never have met me is permitted to potentially harm both my professional reputation and even my income, and they are entitled to “confidentiality,” with no requirement to prove they have been my patient?