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    Physician review websites: The good, the bad, and the technology


    The psychology of ratings

    In a creative study, researchers presented subjects with a Web-based questionnaire containing a short description of a dentist search scenario and the manipulated reviews for a fictitious dentist.5 What the authors found was that a higher number of reviews resulted in a more positive attitude toward a physician, and that fact-oriented reviews induced a more favorable attitude toward a physician compared to emotional reviews, but there was no such effect when the physician received many reviews.5 This is concerning because it suggests that despite the quality of the reviews (ie fact-oriented or not), a low number of reviews led to a significant difference in perceived credibility, regardless of the content of the review.5 The converse also appears to be true. On RateMDs.com, where the average number of ratings per physician is 3.2 and approximately 50% of all physicians had only one rating, a single unfavorable rating on overall score can decrease the physician’s average score and "make an otherwise high-performing physician appear mediocre."6

    Despite the fact that most physician reviews are positive and that the variables entirely within physicians' control (wait time, bedside manner, time spent with patient, etc.) are the metrics most highly weighted by patients, physicians tend to have an innate discomfort with online review websites out of fear of a negative review. This fear is not unfounded. In 2012, a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population was surveyed about their knowledge and use of online physician rating websites and researchers found that 35% of all participants reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37% had avoided a physician with bad ratings.7  In a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, a patient asked about his experience with online physician review websites answered that most websites are "helpful" but that the "ones that are negative [he] always take with a grain of salt."8 The respondent goes on to say, "but if there's a bunch of negative reviews, then OK, maybe something's going on."

    NEXT: Responding to negative reviews >>

    Brian A. Levine, MD, MS, FACOG
    Dr. Levine is Practice Director at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, New York, New York.


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