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Do you trust those doctor-rating websites? Should the government trust them?

An Algoma native now working in Hamilton, Dr. Shawn Mondoux says self-reported patient satisfaction scores are imperfect, but they may soon transform the practise of medicine
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ShawnMondoux
"There's probably a minimum score that everybody should be above. There's probably a score that makes it unsafe or difficult to practise," says Dr. Shawn Mondoux. David Helwig/SooToday

Dr. Shawn Mondoux quotes humourist Erma Bombeck as saying: "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died."

His Bombeck quote is from 1975.

These days, patients look at more than just a physician's rubber tree.

They look at consumer review web sites like Healthgrades.com, RateMDs.com and Vitals.com.

Are these useful sources?

"This is an imperfect measure," says Dr. Mondoux, who was raised in Elliot Lake, attended high school in Sault Ste. Marie, and is now an emergency medicine doctor at Hamilton Health Sciences Centre.

"You're probably going to get two kinds of people who are going to write something: people who are very upset about the care they received or people who are very happy."

That's self-reported data, Mondoux points out.

It's not perfect.

How much should prospective patients rely on consumer-rating sites?

Mondoux, who also has a master's degree in quality improvement and patient safety from the University of Toronto, isn't ready to ignore them.

"If you went on that site and that physician had one-out-of-five rankings across the board and there were 100 rankings, you kind of know what you're walking into," he says.

"It's imperfect but there's no balance there. The data's skewed to one side."

"It's probably not usable in a really stringent way. You couldn't enforce performance based on that data, but it's probably still valuable to some degree."

Speaking at a recent conference for emergency medical practitioners and primary care providers at Algoma's Water Tower Inn, Mondoux suggested that the practice of medicine is about to change profoundly, and patient satisfaction scores are likely to be a big part of that change.

"I don't think anybody should be held to the standard of a 100 per cent patient satisfaction score, because often the best care for a patient is not the care they want."

"But nobody should be really low in a patient satisfaction score. There's probably a minimum score that everybody should be above. There's probably a score that makes it unsafe or difficult to practise."

Mondoux predicts:

  • the provincial health ministry will publish more quality metrics
  • there will be greater demands on medical departments to collect more data for quality initiatives
  • hospitals will be increasingly compared to quality at other hospitals with similar populations and visit numbers
  • "probably, eventually, they're going to compare MDs, at least within a group"

"Quality is slowly, at this very moment, sneaking up on each and every one of you, whether you know it or not," Mondoux said.

"This is going to change your practice, and you should know about that."