A remarkable aspect of the Internet is how it has morphed into one of the most freewheeling free speech vehicles imaginable. The sheer number of individual blogs alone testifies to people's great need to be heard.
Two health insurance plans that are part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association are attempting to capitalize on the allure of online communication—only in listening mode. These are not the personal blogs of the plans' corporate leaders; rather, the Web sites hope to engage the plans' members. These sites go well beyond the patient portal, where patients can look up benefits and get new member cards. At sites launched by the Minnesota and Florida plans, patients sound off on the industry in their own unedited words. The sites are relatively new, and have already drawn a fair amount of consumer feedback—both positive and negative.
The Florida plan's site captures sound clips. Text-driven, the Minnesota plan's site follows in the tradition of the growing number of online "rankings"—only in this instance, individuals weigh in on their recent experiences with a physician. Such a concept may give pause to doctors, who must care for patients knowing that their every mannerism may be scrutinized—especially under the banner of a health plan Web site. Many postings on the Minnesota site have proven to be glowing reviews, while others are more ambivalent.
As an example, here's an excerpt from one patient's account of her pediatric dermatologist:
"The wait times are horrible (I waited in an exam room for one hour last year just to get a physical form and a prescription refill), the time [the doctor] spends with the patients is minimal (last time I watched a video on the condition), [and] the practice takes on way too many patients.… You might very well be disappointed if you want personalized attention and a doctor on schedule. If you are looking for very general dermatology care, I would go elsewhere. But if your condition is rare, or you want information on or to explore cutting edge technologies/therapeutics, [this doctor] is your guy."