Commercial physician-rating websites contain so few online reviews that they are virtually meaningless, according to a review letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In September 2016, a group of researchers led by Tara Lagu, MD, of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, identified a random sample of 600 physicians in three cities—Boston, Portland (Oregon), and Dallas—and looked at reviews posted for them on 28 rating websites.
Twenty-six sites (93%) included an overall star rating, and all collected narrative comments. Two sites that collected narratives didn’t post them. Few sites allowed users to search by clinical condition (n = 5; 18%), sex of the physician (n = 4; 14%), hospital affiliation (n = 15; 54%), languages spoken (n = 3; 11%), or insurance accepted (n = 9; 32%).
Across all sites, each physician had a median of seven reviews. One-third (34%) of sampled physicians had no online reviews at all.
“The number of physician reviews online appears to be increasing (a similar 2009 study revealed only 190 reviews for 300 physicians across 33 sites, with 73% of physicians having no review on any site). However, the increase in [the] number of reviews that we observed was not meaningful; most physicians in 2016 still had no more than one review on any site,” the authors noted.
That makes it difficult for patients to find reviews that would give them an accurate picture of the care the physician provides, according to the researchers.
Bryan S. Jick, MD, of Pasadena, California, who was not involved in the study, told MedPage Today that he agrees the sites provide little commentary from patients and are almost worthless. Still, physicians should take steps to prevent negative reviews, such as hiring friendly and helpful staff and calming upset patients before they leave the office, he said.