When planning almost anything these days, from vacations and birthday parties to haircuts and oil changes, many of us read online reviews before making a decision. The same is true for people choosing doctors. In my post How Do You Find a New Doctor You Can Trust?, I discuss the merits of online reviews (and other ways to find and evaluate doctors). With more and more patients leaving and reading reviews, it is interesting to consider a related question: What do doctors think about online reviews and ratings?
Where can you find reviews of doctors?
You can find (and write) reviews and ratings on two types of sites:
- Health system sites (hospitals, etc)
- Independent sites, including Google, Yelp, ZocDoc, Healthgrades, and RateMDs.
Additionally, there are databases that provide professional ratings on quality and safety metrics (visit the ZaggoCare resource page for a list of databases). This blog post only discusses doctors’ opinions of patient reviews on independent and healthcare sites.
How important are these reviews for doctors?
Very! The majority of patients are reading online reviews and ratings, so doctors cannot ignore the impact of the reviews. A survey of patients by Software Advice found:
- 82% use online reviews to evaluate doctors
- 72% use online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor
Online reviews are stressing doctors out!
Unsurprisingly, doctors are pretty stressed these days due to time-squeezed patient appointments, burdensome Electronic Health Records and regulatory burdens, among other stressors. And now the widespread use of online reviews is adding to their stress.
A survey of doctors published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed the following:
- 78% of doctors think that patient’s online posts of narrative comments can increase their job stress.
- Doctors think the reviews on health system sites are more accurate than those on independent sites. (Interestingly, patients feel the opposite.)
Concern over reviews with only a few participants.
As with reviews of all other types of products and services, numbers matter. If there are less than 30 or so reviews, the average rating can be low if there are a few very bad ratings. As with any other business or service, a low number of reviews and ratings causes concern for doctors.
Doctors worry that reviews will impact relationships.
A strong, positive doctor-patient relationship helps patients get the best care and outcome possible. Doctors are worried that the widespread use of reviews may negatively impact these important relationships.
The Journal of General Internal Medicine survey found that 46% of doctors think these reviews can have a negative affect on doctor–patient relationships.
Are these reviews reliable?
Maybe. As the use of reviews increases, researchers are trying to determine their accuracy.
A report released in 2021 shows that showed that for every one-star drop in online hospital review scores, the typical hospital saw 18 more deaths per 100,000 people. These results indicate that online reviews of providers could be a good insight into hospital quality.
Additionally, a 2017 report, based on 2015 data, found that Yelp reviews correlate well with information from Medicare surveys.
Furthermore, an analysis of hospitals and Yelp reviews showed that higher Yelp ratings correlate with better-quality hospitals. The analysis concludes that Yelp reviews are a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different hospitals.
Lastly, another study found that ratings and reviews on Yelp, Facebook and Google were similar to those provided on Medicare’s Hospital Compare site when it comes to patient experience, but the scores were less consistent in terms of risk‐adjusted measures of patient safety and clinical quality. Do these findings apply to doctors as well as hospitals? Probably, although it’s hard to know for sure.
Fake reviews mislead patients.
Although there is some evidence that online reviews provide trustworthy information, there is also plenty of evidence that sites such as Facebook, Yelp, and Google are riddled with fake reviews. For instance, a June 2021 Washington Post report states there are dozens of Facebook groups where medical practices (and other businesses) buy and sell fraudulent reviews. Furthermore, one expert estimates that about 20% of business reviews in the healthcare industry, including doctor reviews, have suspicious review activity on Google and Yelp.
Doctors and hospitals know these reviews are important.
Doctors and hospitals realize that online reviews are here to stay and are important to attracting and keeping their patients. Many hospitals and healthcare organizations have dedicated staff who manage the online presence and advise doctors on how to deal with online reviews.
What should patients do?
In my opinion, patients should continue to write and read reviews about doctors and hospitals. When writing reviews, patients should leave honest and constructive feedback, but not launch an assault.
Certainly, it is helpful for fellow patients and for doctors if reviewers leave specific examples of what was good and/or bad.
However, when reading reviews, take what you read with a grain of salt. If the vast majority of reviews are positive, don’t be swayed by one disgruntled patient. Conversely, a slew of bad reviews could indicate a problem and you should probably consider other options.
Lastly, don’t use reviews and ratings as your primary method of searching for and evaluating potential new doctors. In addition to reviews, ask friends, family members, and your doctors for references.
NOTE: I updated this post on 7-21-22.