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?





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3 Responses to Commercial Physician Review Sites Tend to Miss the Mark

  1. Ricki Lewis says:

    Great piece Laura, I’ve often wondered about these sites. Do you know if there is a tendency for patients to be more likely to post if they had a bad experience?

    • Laura Newman says:

      I haven’t seen data on this, but the researcher, Dr. Lagu, told me that with physician reviews, there are concerns that the extremes may be over-represented. The sad thing, though, is how many reviews of a given MD are in the single digits, making it really difficult to go on. Additionally, patients generally want more information about their docs and none of these sites have condition information.

  2. David says:

    Thanks for this fantastic article Laura. I never thought about this and really I do not think that there is any legislation concerning physician reviews sites. So the legislator needs to catch up on this matter as we may end up with plenty marketing, but no substance.

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