Online reviews and ratings for physicians are hardly anything new. Founded in 2004, RateMD was the first review site focused exclusively on doctors. Soon, others followed, including Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com in 2008. Today, there are dozens of review sites, including Google and Facebook, that allow patients to rate the physicians that treat them.
According to EMPATHIQ, a company that specializes in online reputation management (ORM) for healthcare professionals, the “landscape for online physician reviews is highly fragmented.” The company estimates that “as many as 70 online review and ratings sides can affect a physician’s public image.”
What exacerbates this fragmented landscape are commercially driven online review sites as well as government agencies that provide ratings, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS).
In both cases, many sites collect metrics on both clinical and non-clinical aspects of a physician’s care. The issue with this dichotomy is that while government-backed review sites tend to have quantitative and non-biased methods for evaluating physicians, the criteria for commercial sites tend to be all over the map, with substantial quantitative and qualitative data as well as simple star ratings. This can skew a patients’ assessments of physician competencies; after all, a five-star review on Google may mean a two-star review on CMS.
One of the main culprits? Ratings and reviews on commercial sites are not necessarily a measure of quality care. Research has demonstrated that there is not necessarily a link between online ratings of cardiac surgeons and mortality rates. Many physician reviewers tend to focus on customer service, such as wait times, bedside manner, costs and parking availability. Systematic reviews about physician-rating websites offer recommendations on how they can be improved, but for now, any type of standardized approach remains to be seen.
What is perhaps the most shocking is that some studies have shown that patients prefer online reviews from commercial sites rather than government ratings and that they trust these sites as much as doctor recommendations. NRC Health’s research found that over a third of patients say their physicians’ online reputation is very important, which is higher than any other industry (including restaurants, hotels, skilled professionals, etc.). It also found that 83.3% of patients trusted online reviews and ratings more than recommendations from family and friends. Finally, the study found that 74.7% of patients want to see at least seven ratings before opting for one physician over another.
Most doctors understand the importance of online reviews and ratings. Surveys point out that nine out of ten doctors worry about negative online reviews. Nevertheless, only 36% follow up on negative reviews. Many more don’t follow up on reviews—positive or negative.