Few websites allow users to search by clinical condition, gender of physician, hospital affiliation, languages spoken, or insurance accepted, researchers find.
Patients increasingly consider online reviews important when they're choosing healthcare providers, but research finds that the websites they're using aren't very good.
Since publicly reported quality data are not reported at the physician level, patients are left to search physician-rating websites for reviews instead, say researchers at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
They used publicly available lists of registered and active physicians to identify a random sample of 600 physicians from three metropolitan areas (Boston, Portland, OR, and Dallas).
Searches for physicians were conducted on 28 commercial physician-rating websites, and the average and median number of reviews per physician per site were calculated.
The researchers found that in general, these websites' search mechanisms are cumbersome and reviews are scarce, according to the study, which appeared in the February 21 issue of JAMA.
Few sites allowed users to search by clinical condition, gender of physician, hospital affiliation, languages spoken, or insurance accepted.
There also weren't many reviews to read. Across the 28 websites, there were 8,133 quantitative reviews for the 600 physicians. Among physicians with at least one review on any site, the median number was seven reviews per physician across all sites.
One-third of sampled physicians did not have any reviews on any site.
The researchers acknowledge that the study has limitations, but write that "these results demonstrate that it is difficult for a prospective patient to find (for any given physician on any commercial physician-rating website) a quantity of reviews that would accurately relay the experience of care with that physician."
A Better Way?
The authors also have thoughts about how better to get physician quality information to patients.
"Methods that use systematic data collection (e.g., surveys) may have a greater chance of amassing a sufficient quantity and quality of reviews to allow patients to make inferences about patient experience of care."
November 2016 data from Software Advice shows that 77% of patients turn to online reviews first when they set out to find a new doctor. Previous research from Software Advice showed that Yelp was the most popular source for physician reviews.
In response to this demand, a growing number of health systems have launched review sites of their own, allowing patients to rate doctors working in their organizations.
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.