Finding a doctor is starting to look a lot like choosing a new restaurant. Online reviews have been a longtime decision aid for foodies and movie geeks, but anonymous rating sites seem to be spreading, finally, to the medical world.
About a quarter of American adults consult online physician-rating sites, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, with over a third of them choosing a doctor based on good ratings. Even more people were swayed by bad ratings.
Doctors, the Wall Street Journal reports, are wary of the review sites: "Being a good doctor can sometimes mean giving patients hard advice. And some doctors fear comments from disgruntled patients or ex-employees could drive other patients away," the Journal's Sumathi Reddy writes. The anonymity afforded by these sites, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to hordes of disgruntled comments. This 2012 study found online reviews to be generally quite positive.
While some doctors have embraced online reviews as a new way to interact with patients and, ultimately, improve their services, many still caution that it’s impossible to fully understand the context behind a patient’s review. As Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe writes,
We are each unique in what we look for in a doctor, so it's important to consider if the complaint is something that would even be relevant to you. An individual doctor may receive both positive and negative reviews for the same practice-style.
After all, an inaccurate movie review might mean two wasted hours of your life, but that’s better than a life wasted on inaccurate medical information.