Popular restaurant guide now rates doctors

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: March 31st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Let’s say you’re trying to decide where you’re going to eat while visiting another city. Thousands of Americans turn to the Zagat Guide, which provides ratings and diner reviews for thousands of eateries around the U.S.

Now the people behind the popular books are setting their sites on a new target: doctors. The editors are asking people covered by one of the country’s largest commercial insurers to post reviews of their doctors and rate them in categories such as trust and communication.

It sounds like a big boon for patients, who typically have to rely on either word of mouth or trial and error to determine which doctor to see. However, many doctors see the guide as irresponsible — even dangerous.

In this case, the guides are being edited by the insurance company WellPoint and can only be viewed by WellPoint customers — about two million people in California, Ohio, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Many of the reviews are positive. In fact, in the first year the guide was offered, about seventy-five percent of patients posted reviews and eighty-eight percent recommended their doctor to others.

But doctors say patients aren’t equipped to truly judge a physician’s competency. There’s a big difference between popularity and proficiency, they say. A patient might be charmed by a doctor’s winning bedside manner and be completely unaware that he has been misdiagnosed. Some doctors also found it demeaning to have their services compared to preparing a meal.

Objections or no, health care experts say the move toward physician ratings is inevitable. Don’t want to consult Zagat? You can already find plenty of doctor reviews online, and even in local community lists typically used to rate contractors and service professionals.