Why some sites don't trust the doctor (and why you may not want to trust them)
Updated: May 11, 2019
Several sites on the internet claim to be "trusted" sources of information on healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, not only are some of these sites grossly inaccurate, but they are also happy staying that way.
One of the primary reasons why I started this site was in reaction to the first time I googled my name. I was shocked to find that some of the top results in my search (which most would consider reliable sources) had completely inaccurate information about me and my practice. In my quest to correct these inaccuracies, I encountered the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of doctor profile sites.
The top result was my profile on US News. Fortunately, most of the information provided was accurate due to the fact that they sourced most of their data from Doximity (more on Doximity later). However there were some inaccuracies mainly pertaining to the data they provided on hospitals I am affiliated with. Also, the "procedures I performed" section only listed one procedure (open lobectomy) which is actually one of my least performed procedures (I can assure you I do more than that one procedure). Also, the numbers of that procedure I performed was not even in the ballpark. I would excuse the inaccuracy if it was directly sourced from the public government data based on procedures billed to Medicare (which is incomplete data in it's own right) but that's not even the case. Overall though, I was generally satisfied with that profile.
Doximity was the second top result. Doximity is sometimes called the Facebook for doctors, although it's more than just a social platform. Doximity allows the physician (or other healthcare professionals) almost complete control of their profile. Areas where they get data from other sources (like board certification and training) seems reliable. Doximity is my primary site for researching doctors for family members. The one downside is that not every doctor has created or updated their Doximity profile.
The 3rd and 5th top results go to hospital physician profiles from two hospitals I am affiliated with. While the information is generally accurate, these profiles sometimes lack any meaningful details. It also gets more complicated when the doctor is affiliated with more than one health system. The information provided by one hospital (telephone number, office address, etc) may not apply to the others.
Let's start with probably the most popular and the probably most hated site, HealthGrades. I am not going to go into the quality or reliability of the reviews provided by HealthGrades, that has been covered many, many times on other sites. What I will talk about is the problems with their physician profiles. HG cobbles together profiles for almost all physicians from a variety of undisclosed (and sometimes very inaccurate) data sources. In order to correct the errors in one's profile, one has to first claim their HG profile. Against my better judgment (most doctors want nothing to do with HealthGrades), I "claimed" my profile. I updated my profile without a problem and clicked save. The site tells you that there could be a 15-minute delay in the changes to be reflected. I checked back an hour later and no changes. Another day, no changes. Another week, no changes. I then sent an e-mail to their support team. I got a reply several days later stating:
"We do have to approve the changes on our end to make sure a patient is not changing data and to ensure it does not affect other providers."
So essentially they were saying that 1) they don't trust their own physician verification system and by extension any information submitted by the physician to their own profile, and 2) they don't trust the physician to know what's best for their own profile. I guess they would rather trust a third-party to provide information on my office addresses and phone numbers rather than the information I provide myself. That last part of the e-mail is like saying that before a business owner can list their business in the phone book that the phone book publisher has to run it by the other businesses already listed. All I can say is that two weeks later and the information is still not accurate.
I had a very similar experience with WebMD who's profile information was still showing the office address I moved from over a year ago. The only difference is that WebMD does not let you actually update your profile address but rather submit a request to update which according to them could take 4-6 weeks for them to "validate and update".
Vitals.com is the worst of the bunch as all the profile updates I submitted seemed to just disappear into the ether. On top of that, they have my specialty listed as "Vascular Surgery". At least they got the "surgery" part right.
In summary, don't always trust what you read on the internet about your doctor (or for that matter anything else), and always try to get your information from primary sources.