Health Matters: Should you trust the online ratings of doctors?
Topic: Health Matters: Should you trust the online ratings of doctors?
In this age of information, it’s easier than ever to become a discerning consumer. Online reviews exist for nearly everything from restaurants to plumbers to cars. The increasingly accessible and widespread reviews inform our purchases of goods and services. We consult other consumers’ comments, thinking they’ll mirror our own experiences and help us find the best choice.
Many of us approach health care with the same tactic, using online reviews to select a doctor or a hospital. But maybe we shouldn’t … or do so with a little “caveat emptor.”
Online platforms that review doctors, clinics, and hospitals have proliferated in recent years. The top three sites (Healthgrades, Vitals, RateMDs) have over 30 million visitors a month. When you Google a doctor’s name, these reviews often appear first on the search results. In a survey by Mayo Clinic, 80% of patients said they’d decide whether to seek care with a doctor solely based on positive or negative online reviews. Insurance companies are even incorporating consumer ratings into their provider directories. While the movement signifies patient empowerment and self-determination, there are reasons to take the “electronic word of mouth” with a grain of salt.
Small sample size
A hair dryer on Amazon may have thousands of reviews that’re aggregated into a numeric rating, whereas a doctor only has a handful, or a few dozen reviews at the most. These posts are dominated by patients who’ve had exceptionally good or bad experiences and felt compelled to voice their lopsided opinions. The polarized 1- and 5-star ratings reflect extremes and don’t represent the typical patient encounter. This small sample size doesn’t reflect the full range of impressions made by a doctor who sees hundreds of patients each year.
Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet
Like anyone with a web presence, doctors and hospitals can curate their online image. Christopher Duntsch, the disgraced Texas neurosurgeon who’s the focus of the Dr. Death podcast, touted 4 and 5-star reviews on Healthgrades and high praise on Facebook, all while killing or permanently injuring 33 of the 37 patients he operated on. Other e-commerce reviews can assure truthfulness with “verified purchase” stamps. But ethical restrictions and privacy laws surrounding medical history make it impossible to determine if the comments about doctors are left by actual patients. On the other hand, because anyone can post comments without having to prove legitimacy, a doctor can be bad-mouthed for reasons unrelated to care or skill.
Topic Discussed: Health Matters: Should you trust the online ratings of doctors?
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