How trustworthy are reviews of doctors?

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How trustworthy are reviews of doctors?

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Reviews are a fundamental part of online life, and many of us now increasingly rely upon the feedback of others before making a purchase.  Such is the faith we place in the online review, there is a burgeoning industry in providing fake reviews in a bid to supply a fake level of reassurance that a product is regarded well by others.

Last month I wrote about the growing opportunities for patients to leave reviews of doctors to hopefully inform the decisions of future patients (not to mention hospitals themselves).  Whilst most industries with a heavy emphasis on reviews have suffered from so called astroturfing (or fake reviews to you and I), has the same befallen the medical profession?

A study by Dr David Hanaeur from Michigan Medical School suggested that medical reviews are fraught with difficulties.

“My personal opinion is that it is difficult to trust the sites partly because of a lack of transparency about who is leaving the ratings,” Hanauer said. “It’s a difficult problem to solve because some people might not want to leave ratings or comments if their identity were disclosed, but at the same time, anonymous feedback leaves sites open to misuse and abuse. Even if the ratings are all true, the small number of ratings for many physicians raises questions about how representative they are.”

A second paper published recently that set out to explore how accurate reviews were that were left for cardiac surgeons in Florida, is slightly more optimistic however.  The paper used physician ratings from the RateMD website and paired them with Florida Hospital Discharge data.

Was there any correlation between the doctors with the best reviews and the best doctors according to the medical data?  Well it would appear so.  The highest rated surgeons performed significantly better and were more likely to be selected by the sickest patients than their lower ranked peers.

It suggests that, for cardiac surgeons at least, the ratings carry some weight.

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