Patient Beware:Specialty Center Websites Can Be Deceiving

I was searching the web for a specialist for a client, a typical task for me.  In this healthcare climate, most specialists work at specialty centers or hospitals.  For instance, oncologists can be found at cancer centers, neurologists in specific disorder clinics and cardiologists in cardiology centers.

In Boston, there are four major hospitals designated as specialty centers of excellence.  To be designated as a specialty center by the National Institute of Health and/or specialty association , certain criteria of scientific excellence with continued development and research must be reached and maintained.  As an example, the National Cancer Institute, part of NIH has 66 designated centers of excellence throughout the country.

I was searching for a new doctor for a client who was frustrated by the current care for a chronic and progressive illness at a Boston center of excellence.  She wanted somebody who looked at the whole person and not just the symptoms since the illness impacted many aspects of her life.  She wanted coordinated care.

In my search, I came across what seemed to be a department in the same center that incorporated a more global approach to care.  It stated on the website, the service was family centered and offered complimentary and ancillary services, and referrals. I have seen this concept in other centers.  Great!  It was just what we were looking for and within the existing system.

After my client took a look at the site, I called to set up an appointment.  I received quite the surprise.  It was the same clinic and the receptionist didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.  I told her about what the website offered and she had no idea what I was talking about.  If my client had a doctor already, there was nothing else to do.  There were no other services and the department doesn’t allow patients to change doctors.  That statement translated into if my client wasn’t happy with the doctor, she would have to go to another center.

I am concerned that this reputable center has a very misleading website describing services for specialty care.  It reflected NOTHING of what the true picture of the center was.  There is no global approach to care, no supporting services or family centered plan.  I felt lied to by the institution. I would never have expected it from one of the big four center/hospitals in Boston.

I am not naive to think websites are 100% accurate.  However, I do expect a level of integrity from renowned centers.  With all my experience with healthcare systems and problems, I should have been less surprised.  The lesson is always call and verify the information found on the web.  Don’t be fooled by the enticing language.

In the end, there may not be a specialty department at any center that provides more than symptom management.  That may be a dream of the future.