We’re number one: 3 FPs on what it takes to stand out on RateMDs.com


Dr. Fred Hui used to worry that other physicians looked down on him for employing a mix of alternative and conventional medicine in his Toronto family practice. But those fears vanished when he learned he is ranked No. 1 among 3,308 family doctors in Canada’s big­gest city on RateMDs.com. “I feel honoured by it,” said Dr. Hui, who has held the top ranking in the city for the past three years. “It gives me valida­tion of my path, which is different from others and sometimes lonely.”

Since 2009, 159 people have posted mostly five-star reviews about him on RateMDs.com. The website is North America’s first and largest physician ratings service, with more than two million doctors listed and ranked according to specialty and geographic location.“RateMDs is not a medical authority,” reads a disclaimer on the U.S.-based website. “Our mission is to provide reliable tools and resources, including firsthand patient reviews of medical professionals, (to give) consumers the information they need to make informed choices.”

Dr. Hui’s patients use words such as “dedicated,” “devoted,” “compassionate” and “generous” to describe him and his holistic approach to medicine, which employs treatments such as hypnosis and acupuncture. Many of those reviews are long, heartfelt essays in which patients express gratitude for Dr. Hui bringing relief to chronic pain and other life-altering conditions that left other physicians baffled. “I feel my patients’ urgency and predicament,” said Dr. Hui, a medical lecturer at the University of Toronto who devotes most Wednesdays to researching new ideas in both conventional and alternative medicine. “I think their reviews reflect their appreciation.”

‘New word of mouth’

The reviews also reflect the power of social media to enable people to share non-expert opinions, pictures and even video about the products and services they use. “They are the new word of mouth,” said Dr. Jui Ramaprasad (PhD), an associate professor in information systems at McGill University in Montreal. “People are exposed to more diversity and niche stuff (and) get recommendations they wouldn’t normally get in their personal circles.”

However, she added that, unlike with restaurants and hotels, both the dynamics and fallout of review websites are different for Canadian family doctors because they work in a public health-care system and are often in short supply. “Many Canadians are just happy to have a family doctor,” said Dr. Ramaprasad. “Still, a review website allows people to understand their qualities and discover outliers with exceptional skills and ratings.”

She added that people who write reviews usually do so to express levels of extreme satisfaction and gratitude or disappointment and anger. “I would think it’s a trade-off for family doctors because they have limited time to provide care and patients may have unrealistic expectations,” said Dr. Ramaprasad. “That could easily result in a bad review or two. But a lot of bad reviews likely says as much about a doctor’s attitude and respect toward their patients as many positive ones do.”

‘Patients aren’t dumb’

Dr. Léo Lasalle

Dr. Léo Lasalle agrees. “Patients aren’t dumb,” said Dr. Lasalle, who is ranked No. 1 among 2,684 family doctors in Montreal, based on 89 reviews. “They know when doctors respect them and sincerely care about them and their problems.” That’s why he considers rankings on RateMDs.com to be more a measure of humanity than medical skills.“I look at the ratings for colleagues who are not very empathetic and they tend to be rated very low, so there is definitely some correlation,” said Dr. Lasalle, who has a clinic in the working-class Montreal suburb of Verdun and also works at the Villa Medica, a private rehabilitation hospital in Montreal that treats roughly 80 burn victims a year.

The son of the first dean of medicine of the University of Sherbrooke, Que., and a member of the school’s first cohort of graduates in the early 1970s, Dr. Lasalle said being humble, working hard and having a positive attitude are the keys to both a fulfilling career as a family doctor and a high ranking on RateMDs.com. “I feel extremely fortunate to have a job that pays well and permits me to play an important role in people’s lives,” said Dr. Lasalle, who has been publicly honoured in recent years for both his volunteer and medical work. “I get up every morning and can’t wait to get to work. And every patient who leaves my office leaves with a smile.”

Know your limits

Dr. Martin Fogel

Another top-rated family doctor, Dr. Martin Fogel of Winnipeg, brings an equally upbeat and down-to-earth attitude to his practice. “The No. 1 rule in medicine is, of course, not to harm our patients through our actions or inactions,” said Dr. Fogel, who has migrated in recent years from family medicine to aviation, occupational and refugee medicine. “I think one of the strengths of good doctors is not knowing how brilliant they are, but their limits. Rather than jumping right in, you have to realize that you can’t and don’t know everything.”Dr. Fogel learned a few months ago from his teenage daughter Leah that he was top-rated among 1,178 family physicians in the Manitoba capital, thanks to 28 glowing reviews. “I’m not afraid to tell patients that I don’t know something. But I also tell them I’ll find out and get back to them, and I do,” said Dr. Fogel, who also considers honesty and punctuality to be prized attributes of family doctors. “People hope to see somebody who cares and gives them the appropriate amount of time to listen and treat their concerns,” said Dr. Fogel. “I book fewer people to allow for more time to see each patient, and to return calls. That way I don’t keep people waiting, and I’m available for as long as they need me.”