AHPRA says a mysterious new website that lets patients anonymously rate their doctors is using the agency’s records without permission.
The DoctorInspector website – which bills itself as an “open crowdsource doctor rating site” – has been the subject of several complaints to the agency in the past weeks.
Many Australian health professionals – from GPs, to pharmacists, to radiographers – will now find an internet search for their name returns a DoctorInspector page dedicated to them. The page includes their AHPRA number, details, a star rating and reviews.
The site does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of its information, and doctors appear to have no way to correct its records and reviews, to remove themselves from the site or to contact the site’s owner.
Canberra-based radiographer Emma Woolley brought DoctorInspector to the attention of AHPRA in a tweet early this month. She came across the site when searching for a colleague’s contact details.
“I thought, I wonder if I’m on it too? And there I was,” she told MO.
Ms Woolley said it was “a bit odd” that patients were able to review the services of a radiographer. She was concerned about the fact there were no contact details on the site, and did not know what action she could take if anonymously defamed.
“I don’t understand what gap they’re filling,” Ms Woolley said. “The organisation I work for has a complaints process. If someone wants to make a complaint or notification, they can make it to AHPRA.”
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the website had not been given permission to use AHPRA’s records, but appeared to have used technology known as “screen scraping” to pull the data from AHPRA’s public online register and republish it.
“Screen scraping is an issue for organisations worldwide which publish information online. It involves automated programs collecting data from web pages that can then be manipulated and republished out of context,” Mr Fletcher said.
E-health blogger Dr David More said the use of AHPRA’s data in this way created an “obvious data integrity issue”.
Unless DoctorInspector had a mechanism to cross-reference AHPRA’s database each time a record was looked up, he said, users could have no idea whether the information on the site was accurate and up to date.
Dr More said the site could damage doctors’ reputations.
“The whole idea of being able to anonymously and unaccountably comment on other people is, I find, a bit off.”
A disclaimer at the bottom of the DoctorInspector website makes no warranty about its information being accurate or up to date. It notes that AHPRA has not approved or endorsed the republished information. The site warns that fake reviews may incur legal action.
A spokeswoman for AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia sought to reassure doctors their confidential information had not been accessed and said doctors need not be concerned that reviews on the site constituted a breach of AHPRA’s social media guidelines on their part.
“Practitioners are not responsible for removing, or trying to have removed, unsolicited testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they do not have control,” the spokeswoman said.
The controversy follows a study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine which looked at doctor rating sites in the United States.
The study found no association between physician website ratings and clinical quality measures, but found a small association when it came to patient experiences.
Author – Flynn Murphy
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