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Many Older Adults Use Online Doc Ratings, With Healthy Skepticism

Megan Brooks
January 07, 2020

Many middle-aged and older adults go online to look at ratings and reviews for doctors, and these online reviews matter about as much as what they hear through word of mouth from family and friends, according to a new University of Michigan (U-M) poll.

"People might think it's just the younger generation that is going online to utilize these resources but that's not the case. These online ratings really have become a part of decision-making for everybody," David Hanauer, MD, U-M specialist in clinical informatics, Ann Arbor, told Medscape Medical News.

The finding that online physician ratings carry about as much weight as recommendations from family and friends "was a bit of a surprise," said Hanauer.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging was conducted online last May by researchers at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine. A national sample of 2256 adults aged 50 to 80 answered a range of questions concerning online physician ratings.

In all, 43% said they had looked up doctor ratings or reviews online. Among the 33% of respondents who looked up physician ratings within the past year, 65% read reviews of a doctor they were considering, 34% read reviews to find a new doctor, and 31% read reviews for a doctor they had already seen.

Although 20% of those polled felt that online physician ratings were very important in choosing a doctor, the opinion of family/friends was slightly more important to them (23%). About 40% felt that recommendations from other doctors or the physician's level of experience were very important.

How long it takes to get an appointment was viewed as very important for 61% of respondents, and 21% felt the ability to interact with their doctor online for tasks such as emailing, refilling prescriptions, and scheduling was very important.

Seven in 10 respondents (71%) said they would choose a doctor with many positive ratings, even if the doctor had a few negative reviews. And a similar percentage (69%) said they would steer clear of a doctor with mostly negative ratings even if that individual had a few very positive ratings. Two in five (41%) felt the total number of reviews was important when picking a doctor.

Among those who looked up ratings more than once in the past year, 67% had chosen a doctor based on a good online rating/review, and nearly all (96%) thought that the ratings matched their experience after seeing the doctor.

Few Leave Ratings But Most Are Positive

Only 7% of respondents had ever posted an online rating or review of a doctor. Among those that did, 56% did so to tout a good experience, and 35% did so to report a bad experience.

"It's hard to please everybody and there is a lot of concern among doctors about the single, unhappy, disgruntled person who might provide some really negative feedback that might outweigh all the other good things. But study after study has really shown that most of the comments online that physicians get are very positive," Hanauer told Medscape Medical News.

Among those who provided ratings, 17% did so because they were encouraged by office staff, and 8% left one because of encouragement from their doctor. About half of all respondents (53%) felt that some doctors influence their ratings to make themselves look good online.

The poll also shows that older adults rarely turn to state medical boards for information on physicians. Although more than half of respondents (55%) were aware that they could look up information about doctors through state medical boards, only 8% reported having ever done so.

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Reviewed on 1/8/2020
SOURCE: Medscape, January 07, 2020.

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