How Do You Choose the Best Doctor?

Whether you’re an employer investigating physicians in a new health network, or an employee looking for the right network doctor, you might turn to Healthgrades, Vitals, or Yelp like many consumers. In fact, 69 percent of consumers select or avoid doctors based on online reviews.1 But should we?

What happens when consumers control our healthcare decisions?

We rely on the opinions of consumers like us to help us make choices every day—from the kind of furniture we buy to the movies we see. Generally, the first thing most of us do is read online reviews, and this heavily influences our buying decisions. This is fine for consumer goods and entertainment. But should ordinary consumers be considered knowledgeable in evaluating a doctor’s quality if they lack a medical degree or outcomes data?

Most people want a friendly doctor, for instance. Others want one who doesn’t make them wait too long before an appointment. Still other patients go so far as to rate their doctors by office decor. Finally, many patients just want doctors who prescribe drugs and quick relief for symptoms instead of getting to the core of the issue. But do any of these measure the quality of the care they’re actually getting?

Research has shown proof of personal bias because online reviews simply aren’t consistent. A study by New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery found that the ratings of nearly 300 sports-medicine doctors on three review sites varied widely. One site could give a doctor one star, while the other would give the same doctor five.2

Less internet savvy doctors, or those who don’t hire outside firms to improve their ratings, can get worse reviews than those who do. For instance, you often see younger doctors getting better reviews than older doctors.3 This might simply mean that younger doctors are more tech savvy.

What’s the alternative to online consumer reviews?

The truth is the best way to rate a doctor is by outcome, and few consumers are truly able to rate that based on online reviews. In fact, one study found no relationship between cardiac surgeons’ online ratings and their mortality rates. And isn’t this what’s most important?

To really evaluate a physician’s competency, consumers can research hospital affiliations, professional websites that list affiliated physicians, board certifications, malpractice claims, and even the physician’s attitude towards drug reps, so they can make sure they’re getting the drug they need instead of the one the doctor is “sold” on.4

Our recommendation? Do online research on these areas and ask a lot of questions during your first visit if you want to make the most educated decision. BridgeHealth relies on CareChex for Hospital Quality Ratings Analysis (HQRA) and Physician Quality Ratings Analysis (PQRA) to determine top quality providers for our program.

  1. Press Ganey Associates. “How Consumers Find & Select Providers.” Infographic. 2018.
  2. Flax, Peter. “The Reasons You Shouldn’t Always Trust Online Doctor Reviews.” https://www.prevention.com/health/a22062317/doctor-ratings-websites/. July 2015.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Consumer Reports. “How to Find a Good Doctor.” https://www.consumerreports.org/doctors/how-to-find-a-good-doctor/. March 2017.
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