Sunday, April 20, 2008

Which is the best way to rate doctors ?

We all want to find the best doctor for our treatment. How can you judge how good your doctor is ? This is a difficult problem and there is no easy solution, even though many techniques have been tried, such as physician profiling and outcome assessment, which often don't work well because physicians can "game the system" when they know what is being tracked.

The best method would be to ask around, so you can find a good doctor. This is what all of us do informally when choosing a doctor and this is a time-honoured method, because it forms the basis of a professional reputation.

However, this is an inefficient system - and this is especially true when you are new to a city and don't know whom to ask. A very effective solution would be to have a community of patients provide ratings for their doctors . While this can be quite a messy system ( because some patients are likely to be prejudiced for their personal reasons and may provide poor ratings to good doctors) , if you believe in the "wisdom of the crowd" then this is likely to be an effective technique for many reasons.

It will help patients because they will at least have a starting point which they can use as a basis for comparison. Patients will also learn what metrics they can use to better judge the performance of their doctors. Every community will have enlightened and articulate patient-leaders who will provide free and frank feedback, which can be very useful for other patients - and who can be better judge for a doctor than his patients ?

Interestingly, this system can be very useful for thoughtful doctors who are willing to use this feedback to improve. Doctors will get an online reputation , and when doctors know they are being judged by their patients, they are likely to improve their behaviour and better their performance - a very desirable outcome ! Equally importantly, if your colleague is gettig better ratings than you, this is likely to motivate a doctor to upgrade and improve his systems and processes.

I always feel that patients who do not come back to me for treatment after a first consultation can give me a lot of valuable insight as to why they chose to go to someone else, which can help me to improve . Every complaint is a gift - and it's better for me to know why my patients don't come back to me rather than to keep on losing them ! This will only happen when patients are given such a platform, and are empowered to provide frank feedback . After all, how will doctors improve until our patients tell us what we are doing wrong, so that we can fix our errors ?

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