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Who’s rating doctors on RateMDs? The invisible hand of ‘reputation management’

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Did that doctor pay to hide some bad reviews on RateMDs, the online physician rating system? You wouldn’t know.

Nor would you know if a doctor hired a reputation management service to boost the volume of positive reviews.

Online reputation management is an emerging industry with companies offering a variety of services to professionals who find themselves ranked on rating sites with no ability to opt out and with no control over the anonymous comments that can affect their reputation.

I feel this is akin to  cyberbullying .– Dr. Sukhbir  Singh, gynecologist, The Ottawa Hospital

The fact that those reputation management tools exist came as a shock to Dr. Sukhbir Singh, a gynecologist at The Ottawa Hospital.

Singh was already grappling with a negative review posted on his RateMDs page — a posting he discovered last weekend after an anonymous person claimed he had harmed them with a procedure that he doesn’t do.

He quickly responded on the site, advising the person to speak to the hospital about their concerns,

Then, just as suddenly, the posting vanished.

“This is crazy. None of this makes sense to me,” he said. “I feel this is akin to cyberbullying.”

In the middle of all of that a sales representative from RateMDs contacted him offering “reputation management tools” for a fee. The service includes the ability to keep up to three comments hidden from public view.

“That just made me sick to my stomach,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that in a public health-care system that I should be marketing myself, that I should be protecting my reputation and paying an independent private company to do that work.”

RateMDs offers doctors two special plans to enhance their presence on the site. The “Promoted” package costs $179 US per month and includes banner ads that will appear on competing doctor’s pages.

RateMDs online physician rating site sells advertising packages to doctors which allows them to pay a fee and hide some unfavourable comments. (Daniel Rofusz/CBC News)

And for $359 US per month the doctor can buy the “Promoted plus” option. Both packages allow doctors to hide up to three unfavourable comments — a feature called “Ratings Manager.”

But if a doctor stops paying, those unfavourable ratings will reappear.

“The reviews a provider designates with the Ratings Manager are not permanently removed and their numerical scores remain as part of the calculation of a provider’s overall rating,” said Chris Goodridge, chief investment officer of VerticalScope Inc., the parent company of Toronto-based RateMDs. (Torstar Corp, publisher of the Toronto Star, purchased a 56 per cent ownership in VerticalScope in 2015.)

“If a user unsubscribes from the Promoted or Promoted Plus plans, he or she will no longer receive the benefits associated with that subscription,” Goodridge said via email. 

“You’re held a little bit to ransom because the second you stop paying that $200 per month, those hidden reviews come back online,” said Ryan Forman, who runs a company called GlowingMDs that helps doctors manage their RateMDs profiles.

Reclaiming reputations

Forman’s company advertises its service to doctors with the line: “Reclaim your reputation.”

For a monthly fee of $229 plus HST the company provides a ratings template that doctors offer to patients to complete after an appointment.

“We then take all of those reviews, good or bad, from the doctor, and we then post it to RateMDs in effect on the doctor’s behalf.”

A reputation management company advertises service to physicians to boost positive patient testimonials on RateMDs online doctor rating site. (Daniel Rofusz/CBC News)

“We’re not able to remove any negative reviews but what we can do is post legitimate reviews that come through the doctor and hopefully improve their RateMDs profile,” said Forman.

Over at RateMDs, Goodridge said he knows that companies are selling reputation management services that target the online site.

“We’re certainly aware that there are a number of companies that support health care providers in soliciting patient reviews and in assisting with posting those reviews,” wrote Goodridge, adding that RateMDs has a system to disallow testimonials from suspicious sources.  

“RateMDs.com utilizes a variety of proprietary methods to identify and remove programmatically-generated reviews or reviews originating from suspicious sources.”

Software circumvents filters

But Forman said RateMDs filters have not prevented his company from posting multiple patient testimonials for a single doctor.

“We have had experience where they have picked up where we are putting more than one review for a doctor from the same location but the truth is our software circumvents that,” said Forman, adding he simply tweaks his software to get around the RateMDs filters.

So could anyone get the software and start posting whatever they wanted as many times as they wanted?

“Yes, I think if they were tech-savvy they probably could,” Forman said.” It’s not software that we developed, it’s software that’s out there on the internet so, yeah, they could definitely do it on their own.”

RateMDs is a free and open forum. That means anyone can say anything about any doctor. Just write a comment, click on each of the four rating stars and hit “Rate this doctor.” The site does not ask for a name, email address or phone number.

The doctor has no control over whether he or she appears on the site and there is no way to remove their page once it’s been posted.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that more than half of Canada’s physicians have been rated on the site.

“Overall, physicians are rated positively,” said study author Dr. Jessica Lui, a clinical investigator at the University of Toronto. “We did find there were differences in the likelihood of receiving a positive rating depending on what type of medicine you practiced.”

Misconduct decisions not visible 

But how useful are those ratings for patients especially if there are ways for doctors to boost their positive ratings?

And right now RateMDs does not post any warnings about physicians who have been disciplined by the medical regulatory colleges.

“If a provider has active or past disciplinary actions on their file they are not visible on their RateMDs.com profiles,” Goodridge wrote.

The remedies do not entirely correspond to the challenge.– Chantal Bernier, privacy and cybersecurity counsel, Dentons Canada LLP

The result? Doctors who have committed professional misconduct including sexual abuse of patients can still have glowing reviews on RateMDs.

“Providing transparency on disciplinary actions is a feature we continue to pursue on behalf of our audience,” wrote Goodridge. “At the moment, the limited availability of this data from the disparate colleges does not make this practical. RateMDs.com hopes to add this information in the near future by partnering with regulatory colleges if they are willing.”

There is also little transparency when it comes to anonymous accusations posted on RateMDs. Several doctors told CBC News about bad experiences including malicious postings from disgruntled employees.

And when patients do post negative reviews, the doctors pointed out that they can’t tell their side of the story without breaking patient confidentiality.

Forman started GlowingMDs after seeing some of those problems emerge in the medical clinics he manages.

“There’s definitely a need for the service,” Forman said. “Their hands are tied in terms of what they can say and do on RateMDs”

Thorny issues

Being rated without your consent can now happen to anyone. Doctors, lawyers, dog walkers — there is nothing preventing a company from setting up an online rating site and publishing anonymous reviews in any field — comments that will circulate on the internet forever.

“There is, I think, a very real issue that has, in a way, run away on us because we do not have the laws that specifically address these situations,” said Chantal Bernier, former federal privacy commissioner, now a privacy and cybersecurity counsel at Dentons Canada LLP.

“The thorny issues it presents is the reconciliation between the right to information, the obligation of accountability on one side and privacy and reputation on the other.”

Bernier said there is a need to examine the legislative tools that will be required to manage those competing ethical issues.

“Right now the remedies do not entirely correspond to the challenge.”

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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