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Doctors: Whom Can You Trust?

I must have a really trustworthy face. No matter where I go, absolute strangers ask me for directions, they request that I watch their belongings, hold their place in line, they even ask me to help with their kids. I am continually astonished by the uninvited inquiries that I receive walking down the street, on the train, or even in foreign countries. I guess people think I’m both harmless and likely to know how to help them. They are right about the first part, and not quite as right about the second.

Just a couple of days ago I was settling into a train seat when the woman in front of me peaked over the head rest and asked if I’d mind watching her bags while she left to go to the restroom. I happily agreed to do so, wondering what I’d actually do if someone tried to take her bag. And as I mused about how on earth I’d won her absolute confidence without even making eye contact, I began to think about the idea of trust. How do patients decide whom they trust with their medical care?

I’d like to think that trust is earned – and many times it is – but there’s also something more primitive about it than that. Without knowing a person for long enough to judge his or her character, we often draw conclusions nonetheless. How successful are we at these snap decisions? Well, we might be quite good at it. I was amused to find an online test where you may judge the sincerity of a person’s smile just by looking at a 4 second video clip. Some of the models were asked to smile convincingly, and others were told a joke or were caused to laugh by some genuine means. Most people figure out which smile is contrived and which is natural most of the time. See how you do.

And so, when it comes to finding a primary care physician, or a doctor that you trust with your medical care, should you rely on your gut instincts or is there a better way to assess their competency?

I’ve wrestled with the idea of online physician ratings for a couple of years. Part of me thinks that it’s impossible to capture all the qualities of a good physician in some simplified form filled out by non-medical professionals. But another part of me wonders if a large collection of different experiences might add up to an opinion trend that’s on the mark. Whether or not you’re a fan of physician ratings, they are here to stay. Perhaps the best we can do is offer as many ratings as possible so that the average might provide high level, helpful information. Revolution Health has a free physician rating tool. Check it out.

How do you know whom to trust? Do you rely on your instincts or the referral of someone you know? Would online physician ratings be helpful, harmful, or simply limited in their utility?

Let me know… and if you see me on the street, yes, I’d be happy to watch your bags.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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