DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Maybe you are part of this trend. More and more Americans are using online review sites like Yelp and others to decide where to eat or shop or where to get medical care. You can find ratings for doctors, dentists, massage therapists, midwives. Often reviewers will focus on how happy they were with the experience. Was there a long wait? Were people nice? Was the billing fair?
CHARLES ORNSTEIN: What they're saying are doctors who make them wait a long time or rush them out or their staff is nasty and rude - they complain about the types of things that they would complain about at a restaurant, the things that they can observe and that they're own experts in, which is their experience at the office.
GREENE: That's Charles Ornstein from ProPublica. The investigative news organization is partnering with Yelp to provide as much information as possible to people making decisions about health care. Ornstein has been watching doctors adjust to the growth of online reviews. Many, he said, are actually happier when people focus on things like wait times and not the actual medical care.
ORNSTEIN: I think that doctors don't feel like patients are qualified to rate them based on their medical acumen.
GREENE: I see.
ORNSTEIN: So if a patient goes into a doctor's office and is feeling really cruddy and wants an antibiotic and the doctor says, you know, you have a virus. And so you just need to take it easy. Drink a lot of fluids, but I'm not going to give you an antibiotic. That may be an ultimately unsatisfying experience for the patient. And I think doctors are nervous that patients will take that to rating websites, and they may look bad. But in actuality, they made the right medical decision.
GREENE: Of course, if many doctors had their druthers, people just wouldn't focus so much on these reviews.
ORNSTEIN: I think doctors are a little bit reeling from the release of all of this information. They prefer a day where they build the relationship with the patient, and there's not a whole lot of additional information other than word-of-mouth or referrals from other doctors. But that era is sort of changing really, really fast. And doctors are struggling to catch up.
GREENE: Charles Ornstein, if I'm a consumer, and I decide - you know what? - I don't necessarily want to go to a website where I might go for restaurants or, you know, bars. I want to go to a place where professionals are telling me, you know, if this doctor has a good medical record. Are there places I can go?
ORNSTEIN: Well, we're still trying to determine what does a good medical record mean. On our website, you can go to see whether your doctor has received money from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. You can go and look at the drugs your doctor prescribes and whether or not they're similar to their peers in the same state. You can look up surgeons and see their complication rates and how they compare to other surgeons. So there is sort of the beginnings of a lot of different data sources, which I think will ultimately integrate into these various websites.
GREENE: But right now a lot of what we're getting is based on sort of the experience and the emotion you have when you leave a doctor's office.
ORNSTEIN: That's right. And, you know, to some extent that's legitimate. If you are a busy mom or a busy dad and you go to the doctor's office and you're missing work and you have to wait two hours to see the doctor, you may decide that that doctor is not the right one for you. If you get a bill that's kind of messed up and you have to spend an hour and a half on the phone with your insurance company and then the doctor's office and then the insurance company - we can all relate - you may decide, you know, you want to go to a doctor's office where you're not going to face those same challenges.
GREENE: And I guess if you wanted any sign that people are sort of reacting to the emotion of being there, you look at massage therapists and acupuncturists as being rated consistently so high because people generally do feel good when they leave those places.
ORNSTEIN: I also think those professions are much more attuned to competing for patients because patients pay more of those bills out of their own pockets. I think that they're more attuned to social media. In fact, they encourage patients to go and write reviews on social media, whereas doctors are just sort of really opposed to it. And I think historically, doctors have not really had to compete for patients, per se. And also, you know, their medical acumen wins the day, which is they hope that you will go to them for their competence, for their skill and pay less attention to these other sorts of issues. But they're beginning to creep in there.
GREENE: Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter at ProPublica and a frequent guest on our program. Charles, thanks as always.
ORNSTEIN: Thanks, David.
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