If the best marketing is indiscernible from content, are Doctor rating sites any better than spam?

Finding a physician often involves a daunting array of choices… …as patients have increasingly begun turning to ratings of physicians, a number of organizations and mainstream media threads have sprung up to address the demand. Some physicians are rated as “top” or “best,” and others are not. Yet many of these nebulous ratings are not as reliable as readers may suppose. Even those of us who have received such designations harbor doubts about not only their accuracy, but the appropriateness of their existence…

A variety of medical disciplines are represented in these ads, including plastic surgery, facial plastic surgery, spine surgery, hair transplantation, and infertility treatment. Others include Lasik surgery, orthopedic surgery, sports medicine, hand surgery, and cardiology… …It is notable that many of the specialties represented in such ads are procedurally based. Surgeons are especially prominent, as are internal medicine specialists who tend to devote a significant amount of time to endovascular and endoscopic procedures. Partly as a result, at least in our current system of health care financing, featured physicians tend to be practicing in high-income fields. I have yet to see such an ad for general pediatricians…

…The real point is this: the science on which medical practice is based and the actual work of caring for individual patients are simply too complex and multi-faceted to permit any simple rating of “best doctors.” Health systems, hospitals, and even some physicians may embrace such ratings, but they oversimplify and distort at least as much as they clarify. Too many really fine physicians are not included, and some of those featured are there for the wrong reasons…

…Patients sizing up a physician would be ill-advised to base their assessment on billboards, television commercials, and airline magazine advertisements. The truly best physicians are often not the ones whose visages grace these promotions. In many cases, such physicians are too unpretentious, too secure in their own professional capabilities, and too busy actually caring for their patients to devote the time and energy necessary to participate in marketing programs for ‘best doctors’

Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts and Philanthropy, and Vice-Chair of the Radiology Department, at Indiana University, writing in The Atlantic.

My thoughts on this interesting article:

> There’s no field in which communities dominate brands more than healthcare so I imagine that while there may be some quick wins for those who advertise, over the longer term Doctors who are hardworking, open and accessible won’t be easy to beat.

> Doctors need to be careful about being too promotional with their online presence. Check out the profiles of Doctors who have mastered the art of blogging and you’ll get some great tips on how to add value, participate in conversations that are happening online, create awareness of your skills and be discovered by patients who you can help. Howard Luks MD, Dr Phil Hammond and Dr Ronan Kavanagh would be a few practicing Doctors that I think are doing a great job and each is well worth checking out as they all have such fascinatingly different styles – also on Twitter @hjluks, @drphilhammond and

> Advertising has helped drive innovation by introducing competition on price, quality and availability of certain treatments. I think it would be a very positive thing if this capacity could be tapped to help drive competition and demand for high quality primary care services.

> The demand created by direct to patient advertising has made certain career choices for Doctors more attractive than others and it again it would be very positive if advertising could help encourage more Doctors to not only see the attraction of primary care roles but also the many opportunities to excel and specialise in this field.

> I think advertising focused on the patient experience presents opportunities to drive adoption of new technologies and best practice. To give you idea of how I see this working imagine a clinic that advertises how it offers “SMS appointment reminders so that 95% of appointments run on time” or a care provider that communicates how it’s mobile first strategy makes care more accessible or provides patients with not only access to their health information but comprehensive written documentation of their visits.

> I strongly believe that if you want to achieve something that hasn’t been done before try and write a blog all about it because a belief in something will never be enough to make you successful in today’s connected world where innovation is everyone’s job. In my experience even the downsides (eg. the potential it offers to make visible your failings) are positive in that they take away the safety net and comfort zone that can all too often surround those who haven’t made it clear that they’re trying to do something.

What do you think?

About David Doherty

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