Report: Doctors need to pay attention to online ratings because patients do

A stethoscope on a computer keyboard
A new survey suggests doctors can't afford to ignore online ratings. (Getty/anyaberkut)

Just as consumers are increasingly shopping online for everything from shoes to sofas, they are also using the web to shop for doctors, a new report suggests.

A recent survey (PDF) of more than 1,700 U.S. adults found 90% of patients will abandon a referred provider who has poor online ratings. The survey, commissioned by Doctor.com, suggests the “Amazon effect,” which disrupted the retail market with the shift to online shopping, has taken over in healthcare. Patients are relying on digital tools more than ever to evaluate and comparison-shop for a provider. 

“[Patients] have no qualms about shopping around for a healthcare provider and they demand an outstanding customer experience from the beginning,” the report said.

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The 2018 survey found the following:

  • 81% of patients will investigate a healthcare provider’s online presence even after they’ve been referred.
  • 67% of those age 60 or higher will choose one provider over another because of a stronger online presence.

RELATED: Asking patients to review your practice online

“The fact that 81% of patients will read reviews about a provider, even after they've been referred, indicates that we've entered a truly consumerist era of healthcare. Patients depend on online sources of information more so than ever, and are using all of the digital tools available to inform themselves and make healthcare decisions," Andrei Zimiles, CEO of Doctor.com, a company that has built a digital platform for healthcare organizations, said in a statement.

A survey released earlier this year found patients pay equal attention to online ratings that measure a physician’s clinical ability as well as those that measure the patient experience.

With more patients using online reviews to find a new doctor, it’s understandable that physicians and practices want to strengthen their online ratings. As FierceHealthcare previously reported, here are some tips to do that:

  • Ask your patients for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking a patient to share their story about a practice on social media. Don’t be pushy, but if a patient has made positive comments, ask them to do the same online. You can use positive patient reviews in your marketing. Make it easy for patients to find and leave reviews by listing your practice on popular sites.
  • Engage carefully. Practices and physicians should also respond if they discover an unhappy patient has posted negative or inaccurate comments. You want to respond and provide your point of view, but do so carefully so you don’t violate patient confidentiality and privacy. 

While online reviews are an increasingly popular tool for patients to evaluate and choose physicians, studies have called into question their usefulness in judging a doctor’s clinical ability. Doctors and patients have different views on whether independent or health system physician-rating websites are the more reliable source of information, and they disagree about whether the data should be shared on public websites.

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