SMITH BRAIN TRUST -- People who check online patient reviews to zero in on doctors to cure or effectively treat their conditions need to take the information they find with a grain of salt, according to new research from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. The study, coauthored by Gordon Gao, co-director of the school's Center for Health Information & Decision Systems (CHIDS), finds no evidence associating online physician-satisfaction ratings with clinical quality measures -- and only a small link to patients’ actual experience.
Gao’s study, “Website Ratings of Physicians and Their Quality of Care,” appears in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine. The paper adds context to findings, widely reported from MainStreet.com, that consumers appear to favor nonphysicians for healthcare. Providers without the Doctor of Medicine degree include chiropractors, naturopaths, audiologists and podiatrists. Vanguard Communications, a public relations and marketing firm, released the study, based on about 28,000 reviews of health practitioners on Yelp, where consumers rate their satisfaction with businesses.
Gao and his coauthors sampled survey responses specific to “intermediate outcomes” and “process of care” from hypertension and diabetes patients connected to about 1,300 doctors. The researchers weighed those results against each physician’s composite score from eight different physician-ratings websites.
Gao notes the study does not account for narratives accompanying the ratings. And, apart from the outcome and process measures, reviews from sources like RateMDs.com and HealthGrades.com can give useful insight to such other factors as a doctor’s interpersonal skills, he says. Gao says consumers should keep close eyes on such government initiatives such as Physician Compare from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which plans to release clinical quality measures of doctors in the coming years.