Some industry analysts say many online rating systems focus more on the patient's experience during an appointment than how it affected their overall health.
"Most of the rating systems are like customer satisfaction surveys," said Mark Anderson, a health information technology consultant and CEO of the AC Group in Texas. "You have some sites asking people about wait times and whether they were able to find a parking spot in the medical group's parking lot."
Part of the problem is that rating sites don't have access to clinical information such as patient outcomes that would help patients make more informed decisions.
"If I'm going to have knee surgery and I'm looking online for a surgeon, I don't want to know what their office looks like or how much time they spend with each patient," said Anderson. "I want to know if the surgeon has done five of these surgeries or 1,200 of them and the rate of complications patients experienced after their surgeries."
Insurer websites slightly better
Consumers interested in more detailed information about a physician have other options. Some major insurance companies have created physician rating sites that are more in line with the reporting systems favored by physicians, though they too have drawbacks.
"The concerns we had—though they are changing—were that the rating systems relied on an insufficient number of patients and did not include risk adjustments for the type of patients that physicians were treating," said Jeremy Lazarus, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA). "We were also concerned that some sites were focused more on cost of care rather than quality of care."