Study: Positive reviews of physician-rating websites warrant deeper look

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Despite controversy surrounding physician-rating websites and limited use by patients, positive reviews warrant further study for utilization, according to an article published in the May 13 edition of Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Tara Lagu, MD, from the Center for Quality of Care Research at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., and colleagues searched Google for websites that allowed patients to review physicians in the U.S. to describe the structure and content of physician-rating websites and to assess the extent to which a patient might find them valuable.

After a systematic Google search, the researchers only included websites in their study that were active between March 1, 2009-June 30, 2009; written in English; made available to patients across the U.S.; structured to allow patients to leave quantitative ratings in pre-specified domains and/or to read and write reviews about physicians; and not restricted by medical subspecialty.

The authors identified 33 physician-rating websites, which contained 190 reviews for 81 physicians. “More than 70 percent of our physician sample did not have a review on any of the 33 sites,” stated the authors. Of the 190 reviews, 170 were quantitative reviews.

According to Lagu and colleagues, most quantitative reviews were positive (88 percent) with 6 percent negative and 6 percent neutral.

“Overall, generalists and subspecialists had a similar percentage of positive, negative and neutral quantitative reviews," they wrote. "After accounting for varying number of reviews per physician, generalists tended to have more positive reviews than subspecialists, but this did not reach statistical significance.”

Eighty-nine percent of written patient narratives were positive (66 reviews of 52 physicians) while 11 percent of patient narrative comments were negative. Fifty percent of the patients' written comments included information intended to help other patients take actions to improve their care experience, according to the authors.

“Physician-rating websites are a novel method for patients to share information about medical care they receive,” concluded Lagu and colleagues. “Although these websites have the potential to empower patients looking for a physician and to offer a new route for providing physicians with constructive feedback … [f]urther study would help to better highlight the potential benefits and pitfalls of these sites for both physicians and patients.”