Online doctor ratings: help or hindrance?

By Laura Mize • Published: May 6th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Finding a new doctor can be tough.

You want someone who’s easy to relate to, yet highly knowledgeable. Someone who won’t dismiss your gut feelings about your own health, but who will steer you away from inaccurate information. Good bedside manner is key, and making you sit for an eternity in the waiting room is a major turn off.

Considering all the variables is enough to make your head spin. Websites offering reviews and ratings of individual doctors are one tool some people use to help them narrow down their choices and decide.

In a 2012 study, University of Michigan researchers found that 65 percent of respondents were aware of such websites. Thirty-six percent of those people said they had used one of these sites in the past year.

But past studies conducted by other groups, including 2009 and 2011 investigations by the Pew Research Center, indicated that less than one-quarter of Internet users had consulted online reviews of health care providers. Given these mixed results, it’s tough to say whether use of these sites is actually growing … although that may be the case.

Regardless of their popularity, one key question looms large when it comes to online physician ratings: Can they be trusted?

Critics say the anonymous nature of the reviews … and the fact that they cannot be verified … are problematic. Some doctors wonder whether patients can effectively evaluate the quality of the care they receive.

It turns out the public is skeptical, too. In the University of Michigan study, nearly half of respondents who avoided the sites said they didn’t trust them.

Even those who did use ratings’ sites said numerous other factors were more important in helping them select a doctor.

Maybe that’s for the best. Online rankings can help you in a physician search, but they shouldn’t be your only consideration.