Yelp and your doctor: Are online reviews useful?

March 14, 2017

Yelp_trademark_RGBAmericans rely on online ratings and consumer reviews for almost everything, from restaurants to hotels and even new cars. Nearly 60 percent say online reviews are important in choosing a doctor, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

But there’s a catch. Commercial ratings websites (not affiliated with the doctor or your health insurance company) may not contain enough information to help you make a smart choice.

Researchers studied a random sample of 600 physicians in Boston, Dallas and Portland, Ore. They found each physician had a median of seven reviews across 28 websites; 26 used star ratings. Written reviews were far less common.

The number of physician reviews online appears to have increased from what was found in a similar 2009 study. That may be because the number of review websites have increased by the number of reviews individual doctors receive has not increased markedly.

“The increase in number of reviews that we observed was not meaningful; most physicians in 2016 still had no more than one review on any site,” Dr. Tara Lagu, researcher at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., told the online publication MedPageToday.

Rather than relying on commercial review sites, Lagu and her research group recommend doctors collect data from their own patients.

Surveys and other forms of systematic data collection “may have a greater chance of amassing a sufficient quantity and quality of reviews to allow patients to make inference about patient experience of care,” Lagu said.

Have you relied on a physician review or survey? What was your experience? Share your tips and stories with Voices for Affordable Health.