This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 8, 2014.
Americans turn to online reviews to decide which gadget to buy, which restaurant to dine in and — increasingly — which doctor to visit. A new study in the journal Pediatrics reveals that almost three-quarters of parents are aware of physician-rating websites, but just more than one-quarter have used the sites to choose their children’s pediatrician.
Researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed more than 1,600 parents nationwide and found that mothers are more likely than fathers to value physician-review sites, which include Healthgrades, Vitals.com and Angie’s List. Parents under age 30 were more likely to use the sites than those 30 and older.
However, those surveyed were more likely to report using online reviews to choose movies, books, appliances or cars than their doctors, and the study’s lead author, Dr. David A. Hanauer, offered several reasons why.
First and foremost, medical insurance often dictates which doctors patients can select and what the out-of-pocket costs will be. Also, people don’t choose new doctors as often as they choose, say, new restaurants. And, Hanauer said, many patients feel uncomfortable writing negative feedback about doctors with whom they’ve had very personal interactions. By contrast, “when you review a restaurant, you generally haven’t spent any real time with the chef.”
Still, Hanauer said, the study shows physician-rating sites are filling a public need. Here are the numbers:
The percentage of parents surveyed who said it’s “very important” that their doctor accepts their medical insurance, making it the top-rated criterion parents use to select a pediatrician. A convenient office location was next, with 65 percent of parents rating it very important. A doctor’s website rating was sixth on the list; one quarter of parents said it was very important.
The percentage of parents who said they had used online rating websites to choose a health care provider for their children in the past year. By comparison, nearly half of the parents said they had used such sites to choose books and movies and restaurants.
The percentage of parents who said they had written an online review of a physician. Thirteen percent said they had written an online restaurant review. Twelve percent had contributed book or movie reviews, and 12 percent wrote them about electronics.
The percentage of parents who had written an online review who said they had given positive feedback about a doctor. Eighteen percent said they had left negative comments.