Online physician ratings don’t predict clinical performance

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While a new study calls for caution in how much patients rely on online reviews, patients do often use them to find a new doctor.

Patients should not rely on online physician ratings alone to select their doctors because these reviews can be a poor indicator of clinical performance, a new study found.

Online ratings of specialist physicians fail to predict their actual performance on measures of quality, value and peer review, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

RELATED: Asking patients to review your practice online

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles compared reviews of 78 of the medical center’s medical and surgical specialists on five consumer ratings sites with a set of internal quality measures, and they found there was no significant correlation.

“Patients are using these online ratings probably more often than they should,” Timothy J. Daskivich, M.D., a professor of urology at Cedars-Sinai and an author of the study, told Bloomberg Technology.

RELATED: Study: Physician-rating websites don’t provide meaningful information

While not a good measure of doctor’s clinical ability, the reviews on sites such as Healthgrades and Yelp may be useful to measure factors that patients can observe, Brennan Spiegel, M.D., a co-author of the study, told Bloomberg. For instance, they can assess whether a practice has friendly staff as well as judge the personal style of the doctor.

While the study calls for caution in how much patients rely on online reviews, patients do often use them to find a new doctor. A 2016 survey by a software research and rating company found 77% of patients use online reviews to find their next physician. So it’s understandable that physicians and practices want to strengthen their online ratings. And there's nothing wrong with asking patients to help if they want to write a review on social media.