Disconnect Seen Between Online Physician Reviews, Patient Satisfaction Scores

John Commins, April 3, 2018

Study suggests that a variety of factors are at play when patients rate physicians, many of which are beyond the immediate control of the physician.

Negative online reviews of physicians on sites such as Healthgrades.com often are at odds with the more positive responses the same physicians get with patient satisfaction surveys, according to a new study this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Compared with colleagues without negative reviews, however, the physicians score lower on factors that go beyond patient interactions and are beyond their immediate control, the study found.

"Our study highlights the disconnection between industry-vetted patient satisfaction scores and online review comments," said study senior author Sandhya Pruthi, MD., an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic.

"Patients need to be aware of these distinctions as they make decisions about their health. Physicians also need to be aware, as they manage their online reputations," Pruthi said.

In a pilot between September and December 2014, researchers used Google searches and alerts to track negative online reviews of physicians at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus. Of 2,148 physicians, 113 had negative online reviews. The physicians represented 28 departments and divisions.

Researchers then compared these physicians’ scores in a formal patient satisfaction survey with the scores of other Mayo Clinic physicians in similar fields who had no negative online reviews. Researchers found no statistical differences in the overall scores, or in the scores for patient communication and interaction.

However, the group with negative reviews scored much lower on factors beyond patient-physician interactions, such as interaction with desk staff, nursing, physical environment, appointment access, waiting time, problem resolution, billing and parking.

Pruthi conceded that the study was limited because physician groups were small, as was the time period to collect data. The online reviews reflected single experiences of patients, and the data did not identify the instances or patient experiences that led to negative reviews.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Bradley Leibovich, MD, a urologist at Mayo Clinic, said the findings "underscore the totality and integrity of processes, elements and encounters – and not just the patient-provider interaction – that all need to be effectively and cohesively in place to ensure optimal patient experience and welfare." 

The inconsistencies of physician reviews have been pointed out in other studies.

Hospital for Special Surgery researchers found discrepancies between doctor reviews provided by hospital websites and those posted on independent physician rating websites. Investigators found a much higher number of reviews and more favorable physician ratings overall on the hospital websites.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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