Physician Reputation Influences Patient Choice

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A new study in the Journal of American Medicine reports that patients are increasingly using online physician ratings, and many consider them to be at least somewhat important. Overall, doctor reputation is very important when patients are choosing their primary care doctor.

In the survey, patients selected the importance of factors when choosing a physician. Not surprisingly, finding a doctor that accepts the right health insurance is very important to most (89%) of patients. A convenient office location and years of experience were also rated very important.

Though not as important as insurance, convenience, or experience, patients also rated reputational factors highly. Over 3/4 of patients indicated being a part of a trusted group practice was at least somewhat important, and 85% look for a doctor based on word of mouth from family and friends. Physician referrals are influential as well, with 80% of patients rating these as somewhat or very important.

A physician’s rating on websites is also influential for patients choosing a primary care doctor. Though only 19% indicated that ratings are very important, overall, 59% consider a physician’s online reputation to be at least somewhat important.

Online Reputation Increasingly Important for Physicians

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. David Hanauer, the number of patients who consider physician rating sites to be important is much higher than it was just a few years ago. He expects that this trend will continue, for better or for worse.

“The usage is increasing over time,” says Hanauer. “We need to be aware that these sites are being used. I think there are still valid concerns whether these sites are trustworthy.”

Awareness of doctor rating sites grows, as the study revealed that 65% of participants were aware of them. The sites include Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, and RateMDs.com. Most of the people who visited the sites said that the information they found was at least somewhat useful.

More importantly, patients are taking action based on doctor reviews. Over 1/3 of website subscribers indicated they chose a doctor based on a positive rating, and 37% decided against a doctor because they did not like their reviews.

Some doctors see this increase in awareness of physician review sites as a positive move. Dr. Tara Lagu, who previously studied the content of doctor rating website reviews, believes that greater awareness will allow physicians to increase their ratings, as one bad review out of just a few can be far more damaging than one bad review out of 50 or more.

For doctors who are wary of the new review sites, Lagu says they’re here to stay — and physicians will need to learn how to work with them.

“I think we should realize that these products are here to stay and doctors are just going to learn to live with them and there are ways to deal with them that are better than others,” says Lagu. “I understand some of the concerns, but as I said I think the vast majority of the reviews tend to be fair and positive.”

Accuracy in Online Doctor Reviews

Doctor review websites are subject to the same problems as all other review sites. Namely, fake reviews. Dr. Hanauer noted that accuracy is especially important on physician review sites, as the decisions made based on those reviews can have serious consequences.

“If you pick a bad restaurant, you may not enjoy your meal,” says Hanauer. “But if you pick a bad doctor, that may affect your health.”

Hanauer suggests that doctors may need to develop a reliable rating system for their patients.

The American Medical Association (AMA) encourages patients not to put confidence in any anonymous reviews found online.

“Anonymous online opinions of physicians should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician,” said AMA president Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven.

How Doctors Can Work With Physician Review Sites

As awareness and use of physician review sites continues to increase, online reputation management for doctors becomes more important. Though Dr. Hanauer notes that some physicians require patients to sign non-disclosure agreements that forbid the use of online review sites, it’s best for doctors to take an open approach to online reputation.

Physicians should see online reviews as an opportunity for growth, and encourage patients to leave positive reviews. A new patient that understands your strengths and flaws and chooses you with awareness of these factors is likely to be a patient you’ll enjoy working with. Doctors can encourage online reviews and take a few simple steps to developing a good online reputation:

  • Sign up for physician review sites. Don’t wait for the reviews to come to you. Create a profile on major review sites, including Healthgrades, Vitals, and RateMDs. You’ll be able to provide the websites with accurate, up to date information, including your practice address, specialties, education, and awards.
  • Respond to reviews. Show patients that you truly care what they think of your service as a medical professional by responding to their reviews, both positive and negative.
  • Consider negative feedback a gift. Hearing the truth hurts, especially if a review is not entirely fair or based on factors outside of your control. Still, negative reviews can help you shed light on missteps in your practice. Patients who complain about long wait times or trouble with filling prescriptions may help you better direct your office staff.
  • Ask patients to review you. Let patients know that you are proud of your work as a physician, and that you appreciate recommendations, both through word of mouth and online. Place links to physician review sites on your website and newsletters, allowing patients to see and contribute to your reviews online.

Physician review sites may not be as important to your practice as your education or experience as a doctor, but online reputation is set to have a growing influence on the medical industry. Embrace the future by developing a strong online reputation today for better patients tomorrow.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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