Public Release:  Study examines public awareness, use of online physician rating sites

The JAMA Network Journals

In a survey of a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, 65 percent of respondents reported awareness of online physician ratings and about one-fourth reported usage of these sites, according to a study in the February 19 issue of JAMA.

"Patients are increasingly turning to online physician ratings, just as they have sought ratings for other products and services," according to background information in the article. "Little is known about the public's awareness and use of online physician ratings, and whether these sites influence decisions about selecting a physician."

David A. Hanauer, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Mich., and colleagues surveyed the public in September 2012 about their knowledge and use of online ratings for selecting physicians. Sixty percent (2,137/3,563) of the sample responded. Twenty-one percent of respondents were 18 to 29 years of age; 17 percent, 30 to 39 years; 18 percent, 40 to 49 years; 19 percent, 50 to 59 years; and 26 percent, 60 years or older.

Among the findings of the survey:

  • Forty percent reported that physician rating sites were "very important" when choosing a physician, although rating sites were endorsed less frequently than other factors, including word of mouth from family and friends;

  • Awareness of online physician ratings (65 percent) was lower than for consumer goods such as cars (87 percent) and non-health care service providers (71 percent);

  • Among those who sought online physician ratings in the past year, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37 percent had avoided a physician with bad ratings;

  • For those who had not sought online physician ratings, 43 percent reported a lack of trust in the information on the sites.

The authors conclude that "rating sites that treat reviews of physicians like reviews of movies or mechanics may be useful to the public but the implications should be considered because the stakes are higher."

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(doi:10.1001/jama.2013.283194; Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com)

Editor's Note: This research was conducted with the support of the C. S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, sponsored by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan Health System. The authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.

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