Study: Physicians need not fret over rating sites

When physician rating websites first began cropping up, some physicians were so nervous that health consumers would post damaging reviews that they required patients to sign gag orders agreeing to not post any opinions about their care on the Internet. But based on a recent study published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine, much of the hullabaloo turns out to be unnecessary.

By examining 33 physician rating sites containing 190 reviews for 81 Boston-area doctors, Dr. Tara Lagu, of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and colleagues found that 88 percent of the reviews were positive, with the remainder split between negative and neutral commentary and ratings. General practitioners and specialists did not differ in the types of reviews they received, according to the report.

Much of the negative feedback, researchers found, involved service complaints such as lack of parking and waiting too long in the waiting room, which may allay the American Medical Association's stated concern that responding to criticism could violate patient confidentiality. However, there's no telling how many glowing reviews are truly written by patients vs. the doctors themselves, the researchers said.

But regardless of the pros or cons, physician rating sites still aren't nearly as popular as other types of consumer review vehicles, as most options tend to be "neither user-friendly nor patient-centered," the authors noted.

According to Los Angeles Times health blogger Shari Roan, physician rating sites represent " one Internet function that doesn't seem to do patients much good or doctors much harm.

To learn more:
- read this Los Angeles Times blog post
- here's the Journal of General Internal Medicine abstract