business

Attorney-focused rating site expands to include physicians

Avvo.com scores professionals on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their resumes as collected from publicly available data.

By Emily Berry — Posted Nov. 23, 2010

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Avvo.com, an online professional directory site listing more than 1 million lawyers, said it has expanded its listings to include physicians. Only MDs are listed, though Avvo expects to add DOs.

Avvo scores professionals on a scale of 1 to 10, based on their resumes, as gleaned from publicly available information online, as well as endorsements on the site and data doctors can add to their Avvo profiles. It features a medical "Q and A" page where users can pose questions to physicians, and health topic pages with general medical information.

Since the 2007 launch of its attorney site, the Seattle company has been sued numerous times by attorneys for libel and defamation because of their ratings. The first suit came nine days after Avvo's launch. Former Expedia.com executive Mark Britton, who started the company, said no one has won a case against them.

In a telephone interview a week after the physicians' ratings launched, he said the company had been pleasantly surprised by the lack of negative reaction by physicians.

Britton describes the site's systems for reaching a rating as "sophisticated" and "responsible," and said he cringes when he hears someone talk about "gaming" it.

A doctor's score is a sort of proxy for what another physician or medical expert might say after looking at a given physician's résumé. Did she graduate from Harvard or Yale or a smaller school? Is she board certified? Does she have good references?

"It's a resume-scoring system at its most basic level," he said.

But like padding a resume, critics say Avvo makes it easy to boost a rating by manipulating what information is shared, and how.

Boston attorney Leonard Kesten said he has been able to "game" Avvo to boost his rating to a perfect 10, or "superb."

For example, he said, "endorsements" from colleagues or clients, no matter what they say, will boost a score. His tongue-in-cheek "endorsements" from other attorneys (ones he actually knows and works with), say things like, "He has represented canines with unparalleled success," "He is a raving lunatic," and "He is an abusive egomaniac" (link).

Something so easily manipulated seems like an unwise way to choose a lawyer or a doctor, Kesten said. On the other hand, his listing on his law firm's website boasts his Avvo rating, and he admitted he has received referrals from the site because it comes up high in Google searches.

Britton said despite Kesten's example, peer endorsements are a good way to gauge the quality of a professional.

It would be difficult for staff to identify cases when people "blatantly lie," he said. The site does not verify education, awards and other information physicians and lawyers enter themselves.

"We're never going to be able to ferret out somebody conducting fraud on our site," he said.

The doctor ratings site is onlne (link).

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