January 3, 2013
Online Physician Reviews Skewed By Too Few Posts Says Study
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Wondering how your doctor rates? That´s the question many individuals are pondering prior to seeing their physician. They´ll scour general review websites, such as Yelp, as well as more health-related websites, such as Vitals.com. However, reviews may not be all that accurate.
A study from Loyola University Medical Center recently discovered that physician review websites like Healthgrades.com often depend on only a few individual patient reviews, meaning that they may not offer an accurate assessment of a physician´s competence.
According to the team of investigators, Healthgrades had the highest number of physician ratings. Researchers found that out of 500 randomly selected urologoligsts, 79.6 percent of the doctors were rated by at least one of ten free physician review websites. In the group, 86 percent of the doctors had positive reviews while 36 percent garnered highly positive ratings. However, the researchers discovered that these ratings were based on reviews by an average of only 2.4 patients.
"Consumers should be cautious when they look at these ratings," commented the study´s first author Dr. Chandy Ellimoottil of Loyola University Medical Center in a prepared statement. "Our findings suggest that consumers should take these ratings with a grain of salt."
Published this week in the Journal of Urology, the study showed that since there is such a small pool of ratings, very negative or positive scores from one or two patients could highly impact the physician´s overall rating.
"These sites have potential to help inform consumers," explained Ellimoottil in the statement. "But the sites need more reviews to make them more reliable."
The researchers also discovered that many individuals — approximately half of people in the U.S. — will look for information online about their health providers. In particular, 40 percent of these individuals will utilize physician review websites.
The top websites following Healthgrades, included Vitals.com (with reviews for 45 percent of physicians); Avvo.com (39 percent of physicians); REvolutionhealth.com (five percent of physicians); Kudzu.com and Healthcareviews.com (one percent of physicians); as well as Zocdoc.com and Yelp.com (posted reviews of less than one percent).
The team of investigators also completed a qualitative analysis of the comments on Vitals.com, with the comments rated as extremely negative, negative, neutral, positive or extremely positive. They found that three percent of the comments were extremely negative, 22 percent were negative, 22 percent were neutral, 39 percent were positive, and 14 percent were extremely positive.
In the past, legal professionals have looked at the questionable strategy of doctors restricting their patients´ rights to post reviews online about the medical care they provided. In one instance a private company marketed a contract that would require patients to sign a contract prior to seeing a physician. As a result, patients were not aware that they were possibly giving up their rights to review the doctor.
“This practice poses a grave threat to the integrity of online consumer reviews,” noted Eric Goldman, the director of Santa Clara University´s High Tech Law Institute. Goldman previously served as general counsel to Epinions.com. “Doctors are trying to misuse a loophole in copyright law so that they can suppress any patients' reviews they don't like.”