Commercial Physician Review Sites Tend to Miss the Mark

Are you hoping that you’ll find a new doctor by looking at online physician review sites? About 60% of people look there, but a new study suggests these sites offer little. Many physicians are not rated at all. For those that are, their reviews are in the single digits, the study reveals. Some are limited to overall star reviews and narratives about the patient experience are sparse.

“These review sites have not evolved,” said Tara Lagu, MD, MPH, who led the study published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Lagu has been studying this field since 2009.“Patients want to find someone who shares their values or because they have a specific condition that they want a physician to manage.” However, the sites were difficult to navigate and information on conditions treated, physician gender, hospital affiliation, languages spoke was lacking in general. The analysis focused on three metropolitan areas (Boston, Portland, Oregon, and Dallas), according to Dr. Lagu, research scientist and hospitalist at Baystate Medical Center and University of Massachusetts Medical School Baystate, Springfield, Massachusetts. These are diverse areas, but exactly how representative they are of other areas remains unclear.

Only Ten Sites Satisfy Bare Minimum Number of Reviews 

The research team evaluated 66 potential physician web sites, but the published analysis is limited to sites that published reviews for at least five physicians. This left them with reviews for Vitals, Healthgrades, Vitals, UCompareHealthCare, RateMDs, Lifescript, DrScore, Wellness, Yelp, and GooglePlus. One third of doctors sampled in a given area had no reviews.

The public may do better at uncovering issues with credentialing issues, quality measures, and physician conflicts of industry by turning to publicly available state licensing boards (for example, for New York State), quality reports, and sites like ProPublica, which show surgeon complication rates and payments to docs from industry, in their Dollars for Docs page. However, these were not the subject of this study.

Looking ahead, it’s unclear whether information that becomes available will prove helpful in selecting a primary care doctor. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) has been hoping to build on surveys like the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAPHS), which have been around for decades. You may have received surveys within the past few years from hospitals or practices required to send out patient experience surveys. Do you complete them? Do you think that they help people and providers provide better care?

If we assume MD rating sites will proliferate, what kind of information would you like to see on them? Do you find these sites limited?





Need a New Doctor. Don’t Count on Rating Sites

Have you ever been referred to a doctor and wondered whether the doctor would be a good fit?

A friend of mine emailed me yesterday, telling me that he is going to a new specialist, referred by his primary care physician. He knew nothing about the doctor. He googled his address on Google maps. Surrounding the building on Google were diametrically opposed ratings of the specialist:

First Reviewer:

“BEST DOCTOR EVER!!! Whoever says otherwise, has never been to a professional doctor. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you want Dr. X and his staff looking after you. I was his patient for 18 years and had to relocate to Fl and let me tell you I still traveled back and forth for nine years at least three times a year to see him. He kept me alive when every other doctor told me I only had five years. Thanks to him I’ve seen my children grow up to be adults. I’ve been able to have a normal life again and still have dreams of the future. I owe him my deepest thanks and my life, miss you lots doc. TY”

Second Reviewer:

“He is a MORON. After an initial exam of 1 minute, he told me I had pseudogout. I was in unbearable pain. Never did a sed rate or CRP. Didn’t listen to me…I went to him for about a one point he told me I had TB of the kidney…this is a horrible man..should not practice medicine. I finally went to an orthopedic doc who diagnosed me with reactive arthritis. I wrote a long letter to Albany about him. There are much better docs out there than this.”

My friend wrote: “I guess this is typical.”He went to the doctor and was noncommittal about his assessment.

Finding Useful Physician Reviews

The larger question here is where can patients find high-quality reviews of doctors on issues that matter to them? How do you control for who the reviewers are? How do you know whether a review is written by a sock puppet (a fake review)? Or whether a doctor’s publicist mounted a campaign for good reviews? Or whether some doctor just had a bad day? What kind of information would you like if you are looking for a new doctor that you don’t see? What rating schemes would be most helpful?