Physician-rating sites influential in choosing primary care doctors

1. A total of 74% of all surveyed parents were aware of physician-rating websites and 28% had used these sites in the last year.

2. When presented with 3 scenarios in order to select a primary care provider for their child, the majority of parents were more likely to choose a physician with a positive website rating recommended by a neighbor than by endorsement of a neighbor alone.

Study Rundown: Patients have been increasingly reliant on the internet for health care information, and recent research has shown that physician-rating websites may influence adults in choosing one particular physician over another. This study evaluated the extent to which parents use online rating sites in order to select a primary care provider for their child and how these rating affect their decisions. It was found that while the majority of parents are aware of such sites, only a quarter used them. Younger parents were more likely than older parents to use these websites. When presented with 3 different patient vignettes, parents were more likely to choose a physician based on a neighbor suggestion and a positive provider rating than solely by neighbor recommendation. Data may be limited as only primary care physicians were evaluated vs. specialists, actions were self-reported by participants as opposed to being directly measured, and there may be other factors affecting parental decisions that were not measured. However, results may encourage physicians to develop methods for providing accurate and fair ratings across all health domains and specialties.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Public awareness, perception, and use of online physician rating sites

Study Author, Dr. David A. Hanauer, MD, MS, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan Medical School.

“Despite concerns about their use, physicians will eventually have to accept that rating sites are here to stay. Not only is a majority of the public aware of such sites, but a sizable proportion is using them to make decisions about choosing a doctor. This may be especially true for parents choosing a physician for their child, since they represent a younger and more technically savvy group than healthcare consumers overall.  Concerns about such sites remain–such as the validity or representativeness of the results–but healthcare consumers have few other choices to turn to when trying to find information about what doctor to choose. Physician may need to become more engaged in finding solutions that are both fair and satisfy the needs of the modern healthcare consumer, or else they will be sidestepped by rating sites that are currently filling a void by providing information that patients find valuable.”

In-Depth [cross-sectional study]: Survey responses from 1619 parents (56% female) with at least one child participating in the web-based Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health were analyzed. Parents answered a survey with questions related to physician-rating websites. They were also presented with one of three vignettes (physician recommended by neighbor, physician with excellent site ratings recommended by neighbor, or physician with poor site ratings recommended by neighbor) and asked how likely they were to choose this physician as a primary care provider for their child. Among respondents, 74% of parents were aware of physician rating sites, and 28% had used them in the previous year. Younger parents (18-29 years, n = 94, 44%) were more likely than older parents (≥ 30 years, n =232, 14-25% for individual age groups) to consider rating sites “very important” in selecting a physician (p = .0001). Positive physician rating influenced 30% (95% CI: 24-36) of site users to choose a particular physician, and another 30% (95% CI: 24-36) were influenced by negative feedback to avoid a particular provider. When adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, annual income, and census region, respondents were 3 times more likely to choose the vignette physician with positive online ratings recommended by a neighbor than with a neighbor recommendation alone.

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