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

Nearly 60% of patients believe online reviews are important when choosing a physician. Yet, a new study finds those commercial physician-rating websites are pretty useless in judging a doctor’s patient care.

The websites contain so few online reviews that they are meaningless, according to a review letter in JAMA.

A group of researchers, led by Tara Lagu, M.D., of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, took a random sample of 600 physicians in three cities—Boston, Portland (Ore.) and Dallas—and looked at reviews posted for them on 28 rating websites. Each physician had a median of seven reviews on those websites. One-third of them had no online reviews at all.

The sites provided sparse information—26 used star ratings and few had written reviews with patient comments. Only a few websites allowed users to search based on such helpful criteria as languages spoken, insurance accepted and sex of the physician. Researchers concluded the websites are not much help to patients.

"The number of physician reviews online appears to be increasing (a similar 2009 study revealed only 190 reviews for 300 physicians across 33 sites, with 73% of physicians having no review on any site). However, the increase in number of reviews that we observed was not meaningful; most physicians in 2016 still had no more than one review on any site," the study found.

That makes it difficult for patients to find reviews that would give them an accurate picture of the care the physician provides, the researchers said. The study authors added that there’s a need for more comprehensive resources.

One doctor, Bryan S. Jick, M.D., of Pasadena, California, who was not involved in the study, told (reg. req.) MedPage Today he agrees the sites provide little commentary from patients and are almost worthless. Still, physicians should take steps to prevent negative reviews, such as hiring friendly and helpful staff and calming any upset patients before they leave the office, he said.

Doctors make a big mistake when they discover that unhappy patients have posted negative or inaccurate comments about them and do not respond, as FierceHealthcare previously reported. However, be careful to protect a patient’s privacy in making any response online.