News

Doctor-rating websites base their reports on only a few patient reviews

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f295 (Published 15 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f295
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

Websites that rate US doctors’ performance and service are increasingly popular with consumers, but a study from Loyola University, Illinois, of urologists found that, on average, ratings are based on reports from just 2.4 patients.1

Two thirds of US consumers who have internet access look up health information online. Half of them look up their healthcare providers and 40% also use doctor-rating sites.

The websites typically ask patients to rate a doctor on points such as ease of making an appointment, courtesy of the office staff, comfort of the office environment, and waiting time to see the doctor. Some websites also ask patients whether they trust the doctor to help them understand their condition and make decisions, accuracy of diagnosis, follow-up, whether the doctor spends enough time with the patient, and whether the patient would recommend the doctor.

The sites provide a rating—a score given to the doctor like that of four-star restaurants—and sometimes contain written comments about the doctor. On the websites in the study, most doctors (86%) had positive ratings.

In the Loyola study, researchers randomly selected 500 urologists in 39 states, including large and small cities. They then checked 10 websites that posted numerical ratings of doctors. Of the 500 urologists, 398 (80%) had at least one rating on a doctor review website. The number of ratings per doctor on each website ranged from 0 to 64, with an average of 2.4.

Healthgrades.com has the largest number of visitors to its website—seven million per month—and the most physician numerical ratings. The researchers also looked at Vitals.com, which has written comments.

The BMJ asked Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com to comment on the study. The BMJ asked whether ratings based on a few comments could be fair or relevant, whether the website could deal with unfavorable comments from people who might have a grudge against the doctor or favorable comments from friends of the doctor, and the relevance of comments to the doctor’s expertise.

Healthgrades had not replied to the BMJ by the time the BMJ went to press. Vitals declined to comment.

First author Dr Chandy Ellimoottil said, “Consumers should be cautious when they look at these ratings . . . These sites have the potential to help inform consumers, but the sites need more reviews to make them more reliable . . . Our findings suggest that consumers should take these ratings with a grain of salt.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f295

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