The Yelp for doctors has yet to arrive. That's according to a new JAMA study that shows commercial websites that rate doctors are limited both in scope and usefulness.
A third of the 600 physicians that participated in the study were not reviewed on any of the 28 sites included in the study. Physicians who were judged on at least one of the sites were reviewed a median of seven times across all the sites.
Almost 60% of patients say online reviews are important when selecting a doctor, according to a 2014 study cited by the authors.
The authors, led by Dr. Tara Lagu of Baystate Medical Center, put together a random sample of doctors from Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; and Dallas, Texas. They looked at websites that were publicly available and in English, did not require subscriptions, allowed patients to write reviews and that provided search by physician name. They didn't include any sites that were affiliated with insurance companies or healthcare systems or that were dedicated to a specialty.
As of September 2016, those sites had a total of 8,133 quantitative reviews of the doctors in the sample. Of those quantitative reviews, 1,784 included comments.
“Commercial physician-rating websites have significant limitations,” the study's authors wrote, including search, which could be “cumbersome.” Though all of the sites in the study allowed users to search by physician name, just 11% allowed search by language spoken, and only 14% allowed search by sex.
Of the 28 sites, healthgrades.com and vitals.com had the most median reviews per physician and the most physicians of the 600 with reviews. Overall, internal medicine or family medicine was the most common specialty of the doctors reviewed, followed by pediatrics. Dermatology was the least common.
Because that demand seems to be growing, and because reviews on commercial sites are still relatively infrequent, the study's authors suggest that some other review system—such as the results of patient-experience surveys—may become popular.