Consumer-driven health care has patients searching online for the best available surgeon, but new research shows 3 popular doctor rating websites can't be trusted to accurately reflect the quality of care individual physicians provide.
Orthopedic surgeons at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City reviewed Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com and RateMDs.com to collect information on 275 orthopedic surgeons, including their years in practice, location, academic affiliation and ratings. The HSS researchers also categorized patients' written comments about surgeons' competence, affability and process of care delivery.
The study shows reviews were inconsistent across the 3 websites. In addition, female surgeons received higher marks on Healthgrades and surgeons with academic affiliations tended to receive higher overall ratings. A social media presence did not appear to impact surgeons' ratings and, surprisingly, more experienced surgeons graded out the lowest.
Patients tended to submit written comments about competence and communication skills for surgeons with the highest and lowest ratings, according to the study. "It appears that even in the modern era, and with the adoption of online rating mechanisms, the traditional three A's of availability, affability and ability still hold sway," says Benedict Nwachukwu, MD, MBA, an orthopedic surgery resident at HSS, who presented the findings at the recent American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual Meeting.
The researchers point out that online rating websites are for-profit businesses and present information that isn't formally reviewed, meaning the sites can't always be trusted to present accurate and consistent information.
"An understanding of the factors that influence online physician ratings may have important implications for sports medicine surgeons, and for physicians in other specialties, as well," says Dr. Nwachukwu. "Perhaps more attention should be paid to improving the validity of online ratings for assessing quality and the outcome of care provided."