Medical marketing is in full swing. If you have insurance, there are many hospitals and clinics near you that want you as a patient. From your point of view you want the best care. But how can you really know which hospitals are the best, and which doctors you can trust?
It used to be that you would trust the doctors and hospitals your family had used over the years. As medicine has become more specialized, and as people have moved around, those traditional relationships aren’t enough. That’s where the Internet helps. We can look up health information, doctors and hospitals. And on the Web, and in magazines, newspapers and on the radio we can see glossy directories of “best doctors” and “best hospitals.” We can see grading and rating systems too – all meant to guide us this way or that as we seek the best care. I have written a book, The Web-Savvy Patient, to help people – especially those facing a serious illness – use the Web to find reliable information. Savvy is the operative word. These days you really have to be “street smart.”
A chat this morning with a doctor friend illustrated how sophisticated the marketing is behind some of the ratings systems. He shared with me the confidential discussion between his department and a group that rates hospitals. How could his department get a higher rating? Simple, hire another division of the rating company to consult with them and start reclassifying the sickest patients (in this case heart patients) so they don't drag the hospital’s ratings down. My friend was dismayed as he saw how this rating system was rigged.
Then there are the “best doctor” magazine issues in many cities. They are often manipulated too because the doctors of a given clinic or hospital stuff the ballot box with votes for their colleagues, not necessarily who they know are best. I know from personal experience of a plastic surgeon who is often top ranked in the airline magazines and on the Web, not because of his skill but because of his checkbook.
I know this isn’t what you want to hear.