For those of you following the Healthgrades situation we’ve been working on — i.e., hospitals ‘claiming’ individual physicians’ listings without the physicians’ permission, rebranding the pages with hospital logos and information, and diverting calls to a call center for the benefit of the hospital — here is an update.

On the plus side, Healthgrades did respond to our request to remove the hospital branding from our doctors’ listings — they referred to this as removing the hospital ‘module.’  The listings now show with the physicians’ numbers only, and the hospital-branded wallpaper and other artifacts have been removed.

Regarding our questions about why Healthgrades allowed this takeover of listings to happen in the first place, the response from them was less satisfactory. They asserted that “just like Facebook,” they “own all the content” and “have a right to sell advertising against it.”  I pointed out that Facebook — despite all the privacy criticism it generates — does not actually do anything approximating diverting people to a third party’s phone center. (!)   Additionally, when I asked them why this was done without the physicians’ permission, their answer was that “the hospitals all contacted the physicians” — but, I know for a fact this is untrue.  And, if Healthgrades “owns all the content,” then why would it be the responsibility of an advertiser to validate Healthgrades’ content?

As an aside, I do have some personal experience that is quite relevant to this situation.  I worked in media for more than 15 years, and even owned and published a yellow pages-style directory.  It’s simply not the case that diverting a prospect who is looking for a particular person or business to a call center for the benefit of a third party (or the directory) is typical revenue-generating practice in media.  It is one thing to take public information to build directory listings — that’s acceptable and reasonable, and if the physician gets extra exposure and awareness from it, that’s a good faith type of trade-off.  But, leveraging the physician’s own awareness generating efforts and referral pipeline development to drive callers to a hospital’s call center?  Beyond the pale in my view.

Naturally, this policy also has potential to harm or mislead patients.  If people are referred to Dr. X by their PCP, look up Dr. X online, find him or her listed on Healthgrades and dial a number they think is the doctor but is actually the call center, they could end up giving personal information to a hospital unnecessarily.  (In my test of two different numbers, the questions I was asked would likely have caused me to unsuspectingly reveal personal information unnecessarily had I been an actual prospective patient who was unaware of the call diversion.)

The bottom line on this: Healthgrades’ approach to generating revenue — putting control of physician listings in the hands of hospitals (who may have conflicting motivations), and allowing them to divert calls intended for those doctors to a call center for data harvesting — seems to push well beyond standard advertising practice, and has the potential to harm doctors and patients.  I encourage physicians to check their Healthgrades listings to be sure they’ve not been hijacked by an advertising hospital, and request they be restored to their original status (i.e., request to have the “module” removed”) .

If you would like to reach out to Healthgrades and need contact information, please feel free to email me at our “info” email box.

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