“The stakes are higher now for physicians,” said Dr. David A. Hanauer of the University of Michigan Medical School, who co-authored the report. “Choosing a physician is not like choosing a movie. If you pick a 'bad' movie you might have wasted a few dollars and a few hours. If you pick a 'bad' doctor, your health and well-being could be at stake,” Hanauer said.
As healthcare providers grapple with the ability of consumers to publicly share opinions about individual practices, several doctors have filed lawsuits to defend their reputation. A Santa Clara University document lists more than 30 examples of doctors filing lawsuits over negative online reviews, posted on sites like Facebook, Yelp and RateMDs, by a patient or a patient's relative. One case made headlines in Boston last year when a surgeon sued the family of a patient who posted negative comments on a personal blog; the surgeon accused the individual of defamation and demanded financial compensation for the damage to her career.
While some of the information posted on the Web, particularly on user review sites, might seem unfavorable or even erroneous, Hanauer say physicians should not dismiss the trend.
“Many are hesitant to embrace such ratings sites, but the reality is that they are now becoming a part of how the public makes decisions. If nothing else, physicians should probably at least be working toward ensuring that these sites are truthful and representative,” he says.
They should also note that word of mouth recommendations are still the best medicine—43% of respondents in the JAMA survey reported a “lack of trust” in the information found on virtual rating sites.
“A known social connection between people still counts a lot when it comes to sharing this kind of advice,” Hanauer said.
Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHSRice