Angie's List adds doctor ratings

Angie's List adds doctor ratings

Chris Austin joined Angie's List in 2000 as a customer service representative in the company's call center. He soon moved to the data department as its director, and then to the IT department as a quality assurance supervisor. When CEO Bill Oesterle approached him last year about overseeing the launch of Angie's List health care categories, Austin was initially somewhat dubious about rating doctors. But he soon changed his mind, and recently shared his thoughts on the subject with the magazine staff.

We understand you had some reservations about rating doctors. Can you elaborate?

I'll admit I was skeptical at first. People in general get a little emotional when the subject comes up. You almost never go to the doctor's office when things are going great. Even if it's a happy situation, like you're having a baby, you're still taking a big step into which you've invested a lot of thought and emotion. So I had a little trepidation: Can we present these reports just as well as our contractor reviews?

What made you change your mind?

There's definitely an interest in this topic among our members, and they want to see what others have to say. It's a feedback-oriented world. Giving people the option to discuss their experiences in a forum like this one acknowledges that people have decisions to make in how they spend their health care dollars. My hope is members will be thoughtful when they give reports and be able to take a step back and think about what they expected to get out of the experience.

In general, people are happy with the care they receive, and it's fair to present that feedback. But if someone has an unsatisfactory experience, that's valuable, too. The member's information is available to the provider, so there's accountability. And if the provider wants to respond to the report but isn't sure how to do so under HIPAA restrictions, we'll suggest language so they can consider their options."

How will Angie's List be different from other websites offering doctor ratings?

The fact that our members will be able to give a full picture of their experience is something I haven't seen anybody else doing. We outstrip everything I've seen in the robustness of our reports.

How can members access these new categories?

At the outset, members will submit and look for reports just as they normally do - by clicking on "Submit a report" or "Check the List" on the My Angie page. There will of course be additional medical categories mixed in with everything else, but you will be able to find them on the alphabetical list of categories under "Med." Eventually health care reviews will have their own section on our website or they'll have their own website altogether.

Will these new categories cost members extra?

No. When we launch, it will be part of their traditional membership. We're starting pretty much from scratch, so we really want people to be able to easily give their feedback so we can get as many reports as possible right off the bat.

Is Angie's List intended as the only resource members should use to make health care decisions?

Definitely not. The primary resource should be a health care professional they trust. Angie's List is intended to be a tool where members can educate themselves and get some perspective on, 'Does this sound like a physician that I might like to use?' or 'Hey, everyone, here's a physician I like.' And of course, the reports are still subjective opinions and may not tell the complete story; some members will have good things to say about their physicians even though their treatment was not 100 percent successful, and some will have less complimentary things to say even when the treatment worked.

Just as in our other categories, people should read reports carefully and decide which ones resonate for them. In addition to reports, there will be a link library on the website that provides external resources people can access on a variety of topics, including links to the American Medical Association and other key organizations. While people should never rely on these external resources instead of seeking treatment, hopefully they'll be better informed when they do.

What has been the medical community's reaction to adding these categories to the List?

It has varied. Some have been excited about the idea. With others, there's been skepticism like my own initial skepticism. Some of that boils down to the idea of being rated in general.

If you send people an e-mail saying, "Hey, you're about to be graded on how you do today!", that's going to make most people nervous. And some people have been a little more knee-jerk; they hear the idea and say, "This is too different, we're not plumbers, it won't work" without really elaborating on that position.

But certainly there are doctors who use Angie's List as members, and I think if you ask them if they're in a position to rate the services they've used, they would agree that they are. And when you ask, "Well, should those same people have the opportunity to report on what you do in an informed manner?" Some people agree with that and others shrug.

Will Angie's List accept advertising for health care professionals?

Yes. But we'll be following AMA guidelines, which allow only certain specialties to advertise, and they're constrained in what they can say. And, of course, companies must remain highly rated to be eligible.

You've launched the first 55 health and wellness categories. What's next?

We'll definitely be adding more categories - and approaching 150 before we're through. We also want to address more holistic specialties. Some of the blogs and resources I've consulted have been skeptical or downright hostile toward them. But we're recognizing that people are using all kinds of services, and we want to give them the option to present their feedback. That's what the List is, after all - experiences that people want to share with others. If you want to help shape the List, telling us about your experiences is the way to do it.

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