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As the number of German websites that try to judge doctors' performances according to patients' opinions rises, the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) has warned doctors to contact the providers of websites that they think may be libelling them.
However, doctors may not be aware of negative comments about them, because the websites are not obliged to inform the respective doctors when the comments appear.
Last week a Munich agency launched a new website (www.jameda.de) listing addresses of about 170000 doctors and 120000 other health professionals, such as midwives and alternative health practitioners. Patients can register free of charge, search for doctors by location and specialty, and post their comments on success of treatment, waiting times, and general service.
“We do not allow statements on medical competence,” says the website. “In contrast to other similar websites Jameda does not have the option of entering free statements by users.” But other websites, such as www.helpster.de and www.topmedic.de, allow their users to add comments. Some of them also include hospitals and other healthcare institutions.
Like its competitors the Jameda site will be financed mainly by advertising. Also, doctors can create their own home page on the site for just under €100 (£70; $140) a year.
Doctors' representatives, such as Martin Eulitz, of KBV, have said that the regional medical associations already provide complete addresses of all available doctors and psychotherapists. Also, numerous websites giving general health information and the home pages of health insurance companies have an internet link to a database of doctors' addresses run by the Stiftung Gesundheit (Health Foundation) in Hamburg, a charity that aims to foster transparency in the healthcare system. However, none of these sites offers any information on quality. “There is no independent institution that tests the quality of doctors,” said Judith Storf, of the National Patients Association.
Doctors' organisations have criticised the new websites. They fear that the sites contain unjustified criticism of doctors, who have no opportunity to defend themselves. The Jameda site tries to safeguard against abuse by limiting the number of entries per doctor and per user over a certain time span.
The Topmedic website recently published a summary of its entries from more than 5000 patients. “Most comments are positive,” said Barbara Bauer, the site's manager.
Also emerging are websites offering prizes to patients for comparisons of treatments—such as laser treatment for shortsightedness or in vitro fertilisation treatment—that are not paid for by health insurance companies. On websites such as www.arzt-preisvergleich.de patients can look for bargains. Other websites even give the opportunity to bid for certain treatments in an auction.