Before a Check-Up, Check Out Your Doc

Like millions of Internet users, Stefani Waters has turned to Web sites such as CheckMD that have reviews, chat rooms and allow people to check for disciplinary actions.

"It's like having a friend that has already done the research for you," she said.

Waters said she did not want to leave anything to chance while choosing a pediatrician for her daughter. Outside of choosing a spouse, choosing a doctor is the most important decision in a person's life, she said.

"You are literally handing over your health and livelihood to their opinion and their advice," she said.

Dr. Scott Blumenthal said such Web sites can be helpful. But he also said people should be aware that they can have biased information.

"It's almost like looking at a restaurant review site when the customers give their own opinions -- you see six good opinions, one bad one," he said.

But while Blumenthal said Web sites can help, he said an interview is the best way for patients to pick a doctor.

"Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but nothing substitutes a conversation with your own physician," he said.

Stacy Susini, of Zontis Public Relations, said Web sites and chat rooms can be "potentially" very dangerous for doctors.

"You have to be really careful about what you allow your patients or your clients to write about," she said.

Some physicians require their patients to sign contracts that prohibit them from online discussions and Web postings.

But Waters said gag contracts would be a red flag for her.

"I would definitely not got to a doctor that asked me to sign that, because I would think he or she has something to hide and something to be afraid of," she said.

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