Many parents wary of online ratings for doctors

March 21, 2016 Volume 26 Issue 2
  • Nearly one-third (30%) of parents have looked at online doctor ratings for themselves or a family member in the past year.
  • 69% of parents believe doctor rating websites may have fake ratings.
  • 11% of parents have left a rating about a doctor.

The recent explosion of online rating sites includes a variety of goods and services – including health care providers. Although doctor rating websites are readily available, parents may wonder if those ratings are trustworthy. To better understand parents’ thoughts and concerns, we asked a national sample of parents in January 2016 about their views of doctor rating websites.

Parent concerns about doctor rating websites

Nearly one-third (30%) of parents report looking at online doctor ratings for themselves or a family member in the past year, with mothers (36%) more likely than fathers (22%) to visit such sites. Among these parents, two-thirds say they selected or avoided a doctor based on the ratings they viewed. Among parents who choose doctors based on the ratings, most (87%) say the online ratings accurately reflect their experience with the doctor.

However, the majority of parents have concerns about doctor rating websites in general (Figure 1). About two-thirds of parents believe some ratings may be fake; slightly fewer feel there are not enough ratings on the websites to make a good decision. More than half of parents feel doctors may influence who leaves ratings. Indeed, among parents in this survey who had ever left an online rating about a doctor (11% overall), nearly one-third (30%) reported that the doctor or office staff had asked them to do so.

Older parents generally had more concerns than younger parents. Of parents age 30 and older, 71% were concerned about the possibility of fake reviews compared to 59% of parents under age 30. Older parents (65%) also were more concerned about the low number of ratings compared to younger parents (55%).

Implications

In this latest Poll, one of every three parents has looked online for ratings about doctors for themselves or a family member. This suggests that online rating sites are a common source of information for parents as they choose a doctor.

However, concerns about these sites may be preventing parents from using them more broadly. The majority of parents expressed serious concerns about doctor rating websites that call into question the objectivity and authenticity of ratings. For example, most health care rating websites have a low number of reviews or ratings per doctor, which suggests they may not represent the full range of patient experiences. Another major concern is that doctors may choose to invite only certain patients to leave ratings, which could skew results. This is borne out in this poll where one-third of parents who have left ratings said a doctor or staff asked them to do so. Some of the concerns endorsed by parents appear valid. Parents report that doctors are encouraging parents to leave ratings, and with only one in ten parents leaving a rating, ratings may not be fairly representative.

It may not be practical for parents to distinguish real from fake posts on doctor rating websites, but some sites have implemented ‘closed-loop’ ratings, meaning that the identity of each reviewer is verified by the website. This may help alleviate some of the concerns related to fake ratings, but it also means that fewer doctors will be listed since they have to opt in and become an active participant in the ‘loop’.

While the use of online physician rating sites is expected to keep rising, their growth may be limited by concerns from parents about accuracy and authenticity. Innovations such as closed-loop reporting may lessen some of these concerns, but doctors will have to become more engaged and willing participants in the ratings process for such online rating sites to become more widely accepted.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by GfK Custom Research, LLC (GfK), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in January 2016 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents age 18 and older with at least one child age 0-17 (n=1,407). Parents were selected from GfK’s web-enabled KnowledgePanel® that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 54% among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 2 to 9 percentage points.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Faculty Collaborator: David Hanauer, MD, MS
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amilcar Matos-Moreno, MPH
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA
Research Associate: Sara L. Schultz, BA

Findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material.

Questions were answered by parents of children age 0-17.

Q1. In the past year, how often have you gone online to seek ratings or reviews about doctors?

  • More than once
  • Once
  • Never

Q2. Have you ever selected a doctor for yourself or a family member due to good ratings or reviews on a website?

  • Yes
  • No

Q3. After a visit to the doctor you selected, do you think the ratings were accurate?

  • Yes
  • No

Q4. Have you ever not chosen a doctor for yourself or a family member due to bad ratings or reviews on a website?

  • Yes
  • No

Q5. Have you or your family ever given ratings or written a review on websites about doctors?

  • Yes
  • No

Q6. What motivated you or your family to rate the doctor or write a review?

  Yes No
The doctor suggested I rate him/her    
The office staff suggested I leave a rating    

Q7. Do you have any concerns about the quality of doctor ratings on websites?

  Yes No
There may be fake ratings or reviews    
There are not enough ratings to make a good decision    
The doctor may have influenced who left the ratings    

Participants were also asked demographic questions on gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income, education and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Faculty Collaborator: David Hanauer, MD, MS
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amilcar Matos-Moreno, MPH
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA
Research Associate: Sara L. Schultz, BA

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Parent concerns about online physician ratings

Contributing Faculty

David Hanauer, MD, MS