Healthcare Business News

Web ratings aren't key in choosing doc: study

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: February 20, 2013 - 11:30 am ET

Geography and physician referral still top the Internet when it comes to patients' healthcare choices, but insurance coverage is by far the biggest driver when it comes to parents choosing a doctor for their children, according to a new national survey.

“Accepts my health insurance” was rated as “very important” by 92% of the respondents in a survey commissioned by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. Coming in a distant second was a convenient office location, which was rated as a very important decision-making factor by 65% of the respondents; followed by doctor's years of experience, 52%; recommendations from family and friends, 50%; referral by another doctor, 40%; and doctor's online ratings, 25%.

Age and gender play a role in relying on the Internet, as mothers (30%) were more likely to use Internet ratings in their decision-making than fathers (19%). Among parents younger than 30 years old, 44% thought online ratings were important, but only 21% of parents 30 years old or older thought so.

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Dr. David Hanauer, a pediatrician and University of Michigan clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, said in a video that these findings show how “over time, the use of these websites will keep increasing.” But Hanauer noted that only 5% of respondents reported ever posting a review, so he cautioned that online ratings might not give an accurate picture of a physician's performance.

Among those who had posted reviews, 54% reported giving positive reviews, while 19% said they posted negative reviews.

Of those who reported finding online reviews useful, 30% said they chose a doctor based on positive reviews, while 30% said they avoided a physician based on their negative reviews.

Among those who never sought online reviews about doctors, 43% said they didn't trust the information. Also, 26% of respondents said they were concerned about a doctor taking action against them if they left a negative review.

In the survey report, the unregulated nature of Internet reviews was referenced, but it was also mentioned that word-of-mouth referrals from family and friends are not regulated either. “But those sources of information may be perceived as more directly accountable by parents seeking the information, and therefore more trustworthy,” the report stated.

The Web-enabled survey of 2,137 adults was administered for C.S. Mott Children's last September by New York-based GfK Custom Research.

A recent survey of the American College of Physician Executives found that most ACPE members didn't think many patients consulted online doctor ratings, but 69% of respondents said they went online to see what was posted about them.

A study published last year in the Journal of Medical Internet Research analyzed 386,000 ratings posted between 2005 and 2010 on the website. On a one-to-five scale, the average score was 3.9, leading the study's authors to declare that “Online ratings appear to be driven by patients who are delighted with their physicians.”

And while the Mott Children's survey found concern about physicians retaliating over negative online comments, one recent court decision did not go well for the physician who filed a defamation case.

Dr. David McKee, a Minnesota neurologist, sued a patient's son who—in an online post—accused McKee of insensitive behavior toward his father. (The online comments were not directed at the care the patient received.) The case went to the Minnesota Supreme Court which, in a Jan. 30 ruling, said the statements McKee sued over did not merit legal action.

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