Scarcity of Online Information Undercuts Physician’s Chances of Attracting New Patients
Online ratings and reviews sites can be just the solution for finding a terrific local restaurant ? or avoiding a terrible one. However, when it comes to finding the best medical care, it’s still difficult to find enough reviews to make a reliable decision.
In a 2012 study published in The Journal of Urology, 500 urologists were surveyed. They averaged 2.4 reviews on 10 major online reviews and ratings sites such as RateMDs.com, Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com, with total reviews per physicians ranging from a high of 64 to a low of zero. The reviews were generally positive (86 percent), but the negative reviews focused on aspects like office decor as opposed to the actual patient treatment. In some cases, a physician can have a perfect rating of 5 stars on one site and a poor rating of 2 stars on another.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found a correlation between online ratings and quality of Virginia doctors. Ratings were mostly positive, with patients most critical about office staff and punctuality. The study also found that ratings were based on the personal experience of a small number of patients ? approximately three, on average.
Most doctors are listed on a number of online reviews and ratings sites, but the information can often be sparse. New sites focused on doctor rankings have appeared in the last few years, including a new rating site from Consumer Reports. Medicare has started collecting data on physician performance, but so far the government’s Physician Compare site only pertains to users who accept Medicare as a form of payment.
Three-quarters of Americans say that they search online for health information, but little research has been performed about the reliability of physician ratings and review sites. In a study by the University of California, survey respondents who rated themselves most satisfied with their experience had higher death rates and higher health costs.
In a survey from the American College of Physician Executives, many respondents claim to be frustrating with online reviews and ratings sites. The survey gathered 730 responses from members, with most physicians surveyed saying that online ratings and reviews sites are “invalid measurements of competency.” Most respondents also said that patient use of these sites is relatively low: 55 percent believe that less than one-quarter of patients have accessed them. On a scale of 0 to 10, respondents placed the average value of online reviews and ratings sites at slightly above 3. Still, most respondents understand that these sites aren’t disappearing. Making accurate ratings and reviews available to the public is an important element of a physician’s online reputation.
Physicians aren’t just skeptical of online ratings and review sites. They also say they are leery of ratings from organizations such as the National Committee for Quality Assurance and the Joint Commission. Instead, they much prefer internal ratings systems.
This short-sighted attitude could be affecting how many patients walk through the doors. Angry allegations posted by anonymous patients can have a dramatic effect on your medical practice. Most prospective patients are now introduced to your services online. The type of comments that patients publish online generally include:
Competency, professional and friendless of physicians and office staff
Characteristics of the practice such as appearance, cleanliness and location location, appearance, cleanliness
Availability of physicians and office staff such as hours of operation, wait time to schedule appointments, or follow up of lab reports
Collaborators such as nurse practitioners and guest physicians who will treat patients when the physician is away.
Additional services such as contacts within the medical community
Demographics of physicians such as age, gender, ethnicity
It’s important for physicians to maintain some level of separation with patients in terms of online interactions. A patient who had a bad experience is more determined to post negative reviews than the many patients who had satisfactory experiences. One negative review can ruin a physician’s reputation. Meanwhile, negative patient reviews can have a domino effect and encourage the publication of even more negative reviews.
Healthcare is a competitive market, and physicians need to consider their online reputation as part of the patient experience. Patients often believe that online information about physicians is accurate and useful. While these patients’ opinions are reported, physicians can use some of this information to improve their practice’s performance.
Overall, these online reviews and ratings websites can encourage physicians to be more accountable, but they’re not without shortcomings. Ultimately, healthcare providers must take the initiative to establish and maintain their online reputation before someone else does it for them.