Medicine is a referral business. While some may say online ratings may not be the best place to go shopping for a doctor, it’s really no less credible than a referral from a neighbor.
Online ratings are here to stay, so researchers from SUNY Upstate University Hospital, Syracuse, New York decided to evaluate patterns of those ratings specifically for otolaryngologists, who care for a wide variety of diseases in a diverse patient population.
“The goal was to use this diversity to better understand the patterns and differences in the ratings of various subspecialties and practice locations,” said Lindsay Sobin, MD and Parul Goyal, MD, MBA, authors of the study appearing in JAMA.
Two of the most popular ratings websites are Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com. On Healthgrades, “the rating form includes questions that address whether a patient would recommend a physician to a friend,” according to the authors. Healthgrades separately evaluates the office operations, office staff and the physician and then combines the results to one score.
Vitals has a more visually separate review of office and physician ratings, but it also combines the results in one score. Vitals also allows for more descriptive comments.
Researchers searched Google for online profiles of 281 academic faculty members from 25 otolaryngology programs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. They found 186 (69.9%) and 202 (81.8%) of those physicians had patient reviews on Healthgrades and Vitals, respectively.
“In our series, we found that most otolaryngologists have an online profile with largely positive reviews,” said the authors. “Interestingly, only a few physicians had descriptive comments on Vitals, but almost 50% of those with comments had at least 1 negative comment.”
The authors noted that there were differences among subspecialties. “In general, facial plastics had lower ratings than laryngology and head and neck surgery,” they said. “Traditionally, facial plastic surgeons are more likely to obtain patients via word-of-mouth recommendations.”
That ‘word-of-mouth’ system is encouraged by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which recommends that patients: “Ask around. When seeking a surgeon, word-of-mouth referrals are a good place to begin your search…inquire at your local salon as to which doctors in the area have good reputations….”
Among the findings in the study:
- Online ratings have an increasing presence on the Internet and an unspoken presence in the physician’s office.
- Information on these websites varies and is subject to little oversight.
- 27% of comments were determined to be negative
- 49% of physicians had at least 1 negative comment
- Patients are increasingly visiting these sites for guidance in choosing health care professionals and providing feedback on their experiences.
Bottom line to docs: Google yourself and be active in managing your online profile and reputation.