An NPR article recently addressed a question I have had for a number of years: Why is it so easy to find hundreds of reviews of a resort or a restaurant on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, but so very difficult to find helpful information on your doctor, the person who holds your very health in his or her hands?
According to NPR, part of the problem is that there aren’t enough reviews on existing sites to make the ratings reliable. In fact, a recent study published online in the Journal of Urology suggests that scant reviews aren’t only unhelpful, but they can also wildly distort ratings. “Urologists averaged just 2.4 reviews on the big online doctor rating sites like Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com and RateMDs.com,” NPR’s Nancy Shute reports. “The paltry number of participants means that one cranky patient’s complaint – or a rave from one doctor’s relative – can skew a rating.”
The study was prompted by an observation by Loyola University Medical Center urology resident Chandy Ellimoottil’s concern about big swings among doctor rating sites for one prominent doctor he searched. On Healthgrades, the doctor ranked 5 out of 5; Vitals gave him a 2 of 5 ranking.
The NPR story notes that a survey will come out later this month from the Pew Internet Project that confirms how little used these health provider grades are. Pew researchers found that while 80 percent of Internet users say they research products or services online, just 20 percent say they have used online review and rankings for health care providers.
New resources are emerging, however. A new doctor-rating site from Consumer Reports (begun in July 2012) rates hospitals and even crunches the numbers from heart surgery records to rank bypass surgery groups. And the official U.S. Medicare website has started collecting data on physician performance, but only for doctors who accept Medicare. As performance data mandated by the Affordable Care Act comes online, that should change, Shute notes.
Do you use healthcare rating sites now, or are you sticking by the time-honored tradition of family and friend referrals? (After all, a friend can give you a more nuanced account of their treatment, since you’ll know their needs better.) What will online ratings programs need to do to make health worker scores trustworthy?