When an Online Ratings Site Failed to Check the Facts

A popular online doctor rating site misinterpreted my limited license as a licensing board censure. As a result, the rating site “red-flagged” me. Here's how I was able to finally set the record straight and clear my name.

I am a neuroinerventional surgeon. Neurointerventional surgery is a relatively young field which has emerged over the past 35 years. The field was created to treat a host of medical conditions deemed too risky to be tackled by open neurosurgical techniques. As the field developed, early practitioners, such as myself, were rare, and therefore in high demand. 

I was frequently asked to fly from my then- home state of Pennsylvania to another state, lend medical expertise to a procedure, and then immediately return home. Because many cases were urgent, I often had little time to mull the invitation over and even less time to secure clearance by the other state’s licensing board. To simplify the process, I received a limited medical license in some states. That was a smart, efficient solution since I knew I’d be making quick trips for one-off patients, and didn’t need extensive privileges.

Unfortunately, a popular online doctor rating site misinterpreted this limited license as a licensing board censure. The site erroneously and without merit concluded a limited license must mean that I once had full unrestricted privileges and was now reprimanded or “demoted” in some way. As a result, the rating site “red-flagged” me.

This action not only had potential to impact my practice and reputation but also the patients who could benefit from my expertise. For example, a hospital considering bringing me in for a procedure may be more hesitant after reading the red flag. Patients were at risk, too, in choosing a doctor with perhaps less experience in this young field.

There is no question that online doctor rating sites have influence. Pew Internet and American Life Project released numbers in 2010 that document just how important of a source the Internet has become for information on medicine and physicians. Forty-seven percent those surveyed report seeking information about their physician or other healthcare professionals online.

However, when information on ratings sites is misleading or downright wrong, traditional remedies and approaches do not apply. We are bound by state confidentiality laws and HIPAA and are forbidden from defending against reputational assaults by posting corrections about medical records.

My first reaction upon finding the red flag posting was to call Medical Justice, a membership-based organization dedicated to protecting physicians from meritless litigation, of which I am a long-time member. Medical Justice immediately approached the rating site about the problem, explaining their unfair and uneducated perception of my limited license in certain states. The site initially refused to remove the post without corroboration from the state’s board of medicine.

Medical Justice then took matters into its own hands, chasing down the board and securing the needed documentation to clear my name. Soon thereafter, my rating on the site in question was restored.

Today, on that same site, I have a rating of four out of four stars. My lesson in this experience is that I always need to be diligent about checking ratings sites’ information about myself. Because there is no industry standard for such sites, information is easily misconstrued and communicated to the public at large.

Dr Joseph A. Horton is the chief of neurointerventional surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. He did his undergraduate studies at MIT where he received a BS in organic chemistry. He holds numerous patents for neurointerventional devices and is the co-founder of Micrus Endovascular Corporation.