Patients, when they begin to feel sick, have become comfortable consulting with Dr. Internet for a cure or seeking a referral for themselves. But what happens when those patients need to find a physician for their child? Do patients consider online reviews of doctors with the same confidence as an online review of a restaurant?
Researchers from the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan examined the influence of online ratings in parents’ choice of physician and found that patients were more likely to use the neighbor’s recommendation if it came with positive online reviews, versus no reviews.
“In our survey, 94 percent of parents who visited a physician-rating site within the previous year found the ratings to be at least somewhat useful,” said the authors of the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Lead author David A. Hanauer, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Michigan Medical School, asked over 3,500 patients which factors were most important in choosing a doctor for their child among accepting health insurance, positive/negative online reviews, and neighbor referrals. Patients were also surveyed on their online review habits.
While three-quarters of all parents were aware of rating sites for physicians, only 28 percent had sought online ratings in the previous year. By comparison, 87 percent of respondents consulted online reviews before going to a restaurant.
“The factor most commonly endorsed as ‘very important’ was whether the physician accepts their children’s health insurance (92%),” said the authors. “Word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends were endorsed twice as often as rating sites (50% vs 25%, respectively).”
The survey included three scenarios for choosing a physician. Based on only a recommendation of a children’s physician by a neighbor (vignette 1), 22 percent of parents were very likely to choose the recommended physician for their children. When combining a neighbor’s recommendation with the additional information of highly positive online ratings (vignette 2), the proportion of parents very likely to choose the recommended physician more than doubled to 46 percent. In contrast, when combining a neighbor’s recommendation for a physician with a highly negative online review (vignette 3), only 3 percent of parents were very likely to choose that doctor for their child.
“Our study underscores the importance of examining awareness about, as well as use of, online physician ratings when parents are making physician choices for their children,” said the researchers.
(Photo by Brett Neilson via Flickr)