WASHINGTON — You may rely on ratings websites to pick a restaurant or a plumber. But should you use them to help find a doctor?
A recent poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan found that many parents around the country are wary of online reviews of physicians, with two-thirds believing that at least some of the posted comments are fakes.
“I think they may actually be showing some discernment about the potential problems with such ratings,” says Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Part of the problem is quality control: “Some sites just let anyone post without verifying that they even have been a patient of the doctor,” Donovan says.
As a result, he says, some glowing reviews could be fakes, and some really nasty ratings could be totally unjustified.
Donovan suggests it’s best to take these reviews with a grain of salt. He emphasizes that only a tiny fraction of patients ever post anything online.
So how does someone find the right doctor — be it a primary care provider or a specialist?
“What I have done is to truly find people that I know and trust and ask them,” says Donovan. And while he admits he has a certain advantage by being immersed in the health care community, he says the old-fashioned approach really does work best.
Start by asking around for recommendations. When you have a short list of candidates, check out their credentials and make sure they are board-certified.
But finding the right physician, in the end, is about far more than the number and type of diplomas on an office wall.
“You want them to have the knowledge and the training, but also to have a personality that you can deal with,’ says Donovan.
So after you narrow your candidates list, go a step further and check them out personally before you really need medical help.
“If it is a pediatrician and you are pregnant, go see them before the baby is born,” Donovan suggests, adding that it is important to ask a lot of questions about everything from vaccinations to after-hours care.
He says to consider it a job interview for one of the most important positions around: “someone who is going to help take care of your family.”