Do You Use Online Doctor Ratings?

Online sites to rate physicians have proliferated in recent years, and about 25 percent of patients now use them, according to a new study.

Additionally, 65 percent of respondents reported awareness of online physician ratings.

The study, reported in JAMA, analyzed responses from a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population.

"Patients are increasingly turning to online physician ratings, just as they have sought ratings for other products and services," according to background information in the article. "Little is known about the public's awareness and use of online physician ratings, and whether these sites influence decisions about selecting a physician."

David A. Hanauer, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Mich., and colleagues surveyed the public in September 2012 about their knowledge and use of online ratings for selecting physicians. Twenty-one percent of respondents were 18 to 29 years of age; 17 percent, 30 to 39 years; 18 percent, 40 to 49 years; 19 percent, 50 to 59 years; and 26 percent, 60 years or older.

The survey’s findings:

Forty percent reported that physician rating sites were "very important" when choosing a physician, although word of mouth from family and friends was a bigger factor.

Awareness of online physician ratings (65 percent) was lower than for consumer goods such as cars (87 percent) and non-health care service providers (71 percent);

Of those who sought online physician ratings in the past year, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37 percent had avoided a physician with bad ratings;

Among those who had not sought online physician ratings, 43 percent reported a lack of trust in the information on the sites.

The authors conclude that "rating sites that treat reviews of physicians like reviews of movies or mechanics may be useful to the public, but the implications should be considered because the stakes are higher."

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