Everyone knows that Angie's List is a way to find ratings for plumbers, dog walkers and hair dressers. But doctors?

As of this week Angie's List, the Indiana-based online consumer referral company, began posting reports and critiques of doctors, dentists and health plans in all 120 of its markets, including the Twin Cities.

So far, it has posted about 100 reports on Twin Cities health care providers in 50 categories, the company said. With more than 30,000 Angie's List members in this market, the list is certain to grow.

Angie's List is the latest among a crop of sometimes controversial new sites that provide public reviews of doctors and other health care providers. Local ones include Minnesota Community Measurement, sponsored by Minnesota health plans, which offers some ratings of local clinics, and Carol.com, which provides pricing and descriptive information about local providers. Healthcarescoop.com, operated by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, also posts consumer reviews of doctors and hospitals. Mpls.St.Paul magazine has for years published a best doctors listing drawn from surveys of nurses and doctors.

Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, said surveys show that most of its members find doctors and clinics the old-fashioned way.

The pre-computer search for a doctor or clinic usually involved asking friends, family and neighbors for recommendations. On Thursday, Hicks discussed how word-of-mouth referral was the original inspiration behind Angie's List 13 years ago, and has kept it going ever since. That makes rating doctors and clinics a natural for Angie's List, she said.

Hicks also said that despite the misgivings of some in health care, consumers are quite capable of rating the quality of their health care.

Q Why are you doing this now?

A There is so much demand from members and in the health care community at large. Today, consumers have so many more choices -- choice of doctors and facilities, and health plans. And patients are controlling the initial dollars that they spend because of health savings accounts. They are seeking this information. We polled our members ... and a third said they asked friends and family. That reaffirmed it for us. They are looking for doctors through personal networking.

Q Isn't there a difference between finding a roofer through an anonymous, casual referral like the ones on Angie's List and a doctor or surgeon? Do you think people will rely on it for what many think is an important choice?

A Consumers are very capable of evaluating their medical care and giving valuable information, key things like cost and a patient's ability to communicate with their provider. Angie's List can sum up with an average rating, but it also offers detailed information about an experience of what it's like to work with that provider. Some people like a doctor that is matter of fact, while others want someone who takes time to talk things through. Reading through the list, you can get that feel.

Q How do you know whether someone is gaming the system by posting false reports, either good or bad?

A You cannot report anonymously. You have to create a user name and password. We limit the number of times each person reports so I can't stack the deck on my pediatrician. And we will investigate. If we reach a point where we can't validate the origin of a report, we take it off.

Q It's one thing to anonymously report that a plumber didn't fix a leak. It's far more damaging to anonymously report that a surgeon operated on the wrong knee. How do you protect providers from people who post false and damaging allegations?

A We don't share names with the public. But your name is available to the company or provider. That system has been in place for many years. That speaks loudly to the accountability of the report.

Q Medicine is extremely complex. Do consumers have the sophistication to judge the medical expertise of a doctor or clinic?

A The medical community has had concerns about that. But look, it's a service. Consumers are smart. They can evaluate the medical field just like they can evaluate any other service.

Q Angie's List got its start in the home improvement field, and that's still your biggest category. Do you think it will stay that way?

A As I watch the medical [category] kick off, I wonder where that one will go. I would not be surprised if medical takes over home improvement.

Josephine Marcotty • 612 673 7394