Until the advent of the internet, people largely relied upon word-of-mouth recommendations when they sought medical care. You asked your neighbor, your friend, your clergy for a physician recommendation. Now, we all turn on our computers or our smart phones and surf the net for a healthcare provider. There are many free internet websites that post the basics about a physician: his or her address, specialty, and board certifications. In addition, these websites also often post physician ratings entered by current or former patients. However, such ratings should be viewed skeptically when choosing a physician. A recent study that looked at ratings for urologists found there were only 2 or 3 ratings for each doctor. As a result, just one very good or very bad rating can skew the picture of the physician’s practice and abilities. In addition, these rating systems emphasize non-medical issues such as punctuality, bedside manner, and the friendliness of support staff, as opposed to how well a physician actually practices medicine.

Medicare is currently working on a free-access program which will compare physician practices, by geographic areas. Currently, Medicare has both a “Hospital Compare” and a “Nursing Home Compare” rating system which allows the consumer to compare various institutions in a geographic area with each other. The Medicare Compare programs deal with substantive medical or nursing home care as well as things like cost, staffing, and the availability of ancillary services.