Online Doctor Ratings Affect Parents’ Physician Choices, Study Finds

September 23, 2014 in News

Physician rating websites significantly affect parents’ choice of a physician for their children, and parents are increasingly using such sites, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, Medscape reports (Frellick, Medscape, 9/22).

Details of Study

For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan in September 2012 surveyed 1,619 U.S. parents with at least one child age 17 or younger as part of the university’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. The respondents answered 23 questions related to physician rating sites.

Awareness, Use of Rating Websites

Researchers found that:

  • 74% of respondents were aware of physician rating websites;
  • 28% had used such websites in the past year when selecting a primary care doctor for their children; and
  • 6% had posted a physician rating online, with 60% leaving positive reviews and 18% leaving negative reviews (Hanauer et al., Pediatrics, 9/22).

Lead study author David Hanauer said, “The small percentage of parents who actually post reviews suggests that people who depend on online ratings may not be getting a complete picture of a doctor’s care” (University of Michigan release, 9/22).

Overall, parents ages 18 to 29 were more likely to say that physician rating websites were important and were more likely to post ratings (Medscape, 9/22).

Effect of Rating Websites

In part of the study, parents were randomly divided into groups and asked to consider one of three hypothetical scenarios:

  • A physician was recommended by a neighbor;
  • A physician was recommended by a neighbor and had among the highest rating on a physician rating website; and
  • A physician was recommended by a neighbor and had among the lowest rating on a physician rating website.

For all three scenarios, participants were told that the physician accepted their health insurance.

The study found that:

  • 22% of respondents in the first scenario said they were very likely to select the neighbor-recommended physician;
  • 46% of respondents in the second scenario said they were very likely to choose the neighbor-recommended physician who had a high rating; and
  • 3% of respondents in the third scenario said they were very likely to choose the neighbor-recommended physician who had a low rating.

Hanauer said the findings demonstrated that “[a] provider’s online reputation may now be just as important as one’s reputation among the general community” (University of Michigan release, 9/22).

Related Commentary

In a commentary on the study, Bryan Vartabedian, with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, said the study’s results show the importance of physician rating websites in parents’ decision making.

He recommended that pediatricians proactively shape their online profile to best present information parents might find about them online (Medscape, 9/22).

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