Online Physician Rating Sites: Public Awareness and Participation Increasing

Dr. David Hanauer, MD Associate Professor, University of Michigan Medical School 1500 East Medical Center Drive Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5940MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. David Hanauer, MD
Associate Professor, University of Michigan Medical School
1500 East Medical Center Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5940

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study

Dr. Hanauer: From my perspective, the primary findings were that 65% of the general public is now aware of physician rating web sites and among those who are aware, about 36% had used them in the prior year.  Awareness and usage seems to be rapidly increasing compared to what has been reported in prior studies from just a few years ago.  We also found that patients consider word of mouth recommendations (from family/friends) to be almost twice as important as ratings sites are.
MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Hanauer: I was surprised that the public was truly using these online rating sites to make decisions.  In our study, among those who had sought online physician ratings in the prior year, 35% had chosen a doctor based on good ratings and 37% had avoided a doctor based on bad ratings. This is important to because the implications of using these sites are potentially much larger than using similar rating sites for standard consumer goods and services (choosing a movie to watch, for example).

One thing that wasn’t surprising is how few people actually leave ratings themselves.  In our study, 5% of the public had left a rating about a physician. We know from prior work that one of the biggest concerns about such sites is that, because so few people leave ratings, it is hard for people to make judgements about how accurate or representative the ratings are.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Hanauer: Clinicians should be aware that the public is actually using these sites more and more to make decisions so the information on them could impact whether or not the next potential patient chooses to see them or not.  Many clinicians have long been resistant to such ratings, but they seem to be here to stay, and may even be proliferating. It seems as if there are an increasing number of online rating sites for clinicians these days.

However, from the patient perspective it is important to realize that there isn’t much (if any) regulation of the sites, and it is hard to know how trustworthy many of them are.  For example, even for the few (potentially non-represenative) ratings about a physician on a site, can we even know if the rating was real, or what factors it was based on?  This may be why patients are still seeking input from family and friends more than rating sites.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Hanauer: Given that ratings sites are likely not going away, I think in the future it will be important to understand how to make the sites more reliable so that both clinicians and patients can feel that at least the data are trustworthy. I think it will be important to better understand what patients would like to see in ratings sites, and what clinicians think are reasonable measures to include.  Finding the right balance will be tricky.

Another very important aspect to consider is what actually should go into defining a “good” clinician rating?  While some may seem obvious (bedside manners, skills, etc), others may be more controversial (decor of the waiting room, for example). Right now there is no consensus, and as a result different rating sites often measure different things. So a potential healthcare “consumer” may develop a different perspective depending on which site(s) he/she visited.

Citation:

Hanauer DA, Zheng K, Singer D, Gebremariam A, Davis M. Public Awareness, Perception, and Use of Online Physician Rating Sites. JAMA. (In Press)