Looking for a Good Doctor? Use Online Ratings With Caution

Why rating doctors is not the same as rating a restaurant or a contractor.

If you’re like many consumers, you research reviews and ratings for products or services online before committing to a purchase. You may even check professor rating sites before signing up for a college course. But putting your trust in online reviews when selecting a doctor is not good medicine.

Shopping around for medical care has become increasingly popular as out-of-pocket health care costs have soared. But if you rely on online review sites, like Yelp, when selecting a physician, you’re likely not getting the full story.

Niam Yaraghi, a fellow in the Brooking Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation recently wrote in U.S. News & World Report:

Patients are neither qualified nor capable of evaluating the quality of the medical services that they receive. How can a patient, with no medical expertise, know that the treatment option that he received was the best available one? How can a patient’s family who lost him on a hospital bed, know that physicians had provided their loved one with the best possible medical care? If patients are not qualified to make medical decisions and rely on physicians’ medical expertise to make such decisions, then how can they evaluate the quality of such decisions and know that their doctor’s decision was the best possible one?

When rating physicians, patients focus on how quickly they were seen, how long they were with the doctor, and if the doctor or nurse was kind to them. Clinical outcomes are rarely mentioned, health care business consultant Lisa Suennen told The Washington Post.

It’s the differing expectations of patients and doctors that often lead to problems in the online rating world, where you can find reviews of your local Chinese restaurant and obstetrician on the same site.

“We don’t have consumers, we have patients,” Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, told The Post. “Health care isn’t necessarily like shopping at Target.”

Because of the complexities of health care, you could be doing yourself a disservice to select a physician based on their online reviews.

Sure, online reviews may give you an idea of a doctor’s bedside manner and how long you could have to sit in the waiting room, but that’s hardly a valid measure of a physician’s quality and medical expertise.

Have you read or written online reviews about a health care provider? Share your thoughts below.

Stacy Johnson

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