“The results of our study should make consumers think twice about relying only on these website ratings as a source of quality information,” the study's lead author, ABIM researcher Bradley Gray, said in a news release. “This study also highlights the need for more valid and reliable physician quality information to be made publicly available.”
Gray and colleagues did Google searches of the physicians' names and took information from eight free websites. The websites with the most reviews of the doctors studied were Healthgrades (613), UCompareHealthCare (466), and Vitals (207). Star ratings were converted into percentages, so that a rating of four out of five stars equaled 80%.
Ratings were found for 61% of the researched doctors. They had an average of 5.6 ratings each, and an average rating of 81.6%.
The internal patient-experience surveys were part of the ABIM practice-improvement module and included questions on care satisfaction, teaching self-monitoring procedures, and communication issues such as providing clear instructions on diet and medications, as well as potential prescription side effects.
The association between quality measures such as clinical outcomes and blood-pressure control was considered statistically insignificant. The relation between patient-experience survey scores and online ratings was only slightly more significant.
The researchers cited the example of physicians who received an online rating of only one star, but had 79% of their surveyed patients rate their care as “very good” or “excellent.” Physicians who had perfect five-star ratings had 82% of their surveyed patients rate their care as “very good” or “excellent.”
This disconnect could come from the low number of individual ratings on the websites, or because patients who submitted ratings were not typical of a doctor's overall patient population, the researchers speculated. They also cited studies showing a stronger association between online ratings and quality measures in the United Kingdom, and how stronger ties have been found between clinical outcomes and the results of well-constructed patient-experience surveys.
“The study results make clear that online physician ratings should, at most, be a small part of the decision making that should also include looking at other sources of quality information such as the status of a physician's board certification,” Dr. Richard Baron, ABIM president and CEO, said in the release.
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks