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Older adults use online physician ratings, but view them cautiously, poll shows

Online reviews matter about as much as what an older person hears from family and friends through word of mouth.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Find a restaurant. Book a hotel. Choose a product to buy. Online ratings and reviews from other customers can help with making decisions on all of these, and their use has exploded in the past decade.

But online ratings of physicians? A new poll suggests they don't yet hold as much sway with the Americans who use the most healthcare: people over the age of 50.

In all, 43% of people between the ages of 50 and 80 said they had looked up a doctor online to see how others rated him or her, or what was said in their reviews.

One-third of them had done so at least once in the past year, according to new results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. And two-thirds of them had chosen a doctor due to good online ratings and reviews.

When it comes to choosing a physician, online reviews matter about as much as what an older person hears from family and friends through word of mouth -- but only one in five poll respondents called either source of information "very important."


The poll, carried out by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center, and involved a national sample of more than 2,200 adults ages 50 to 80. They answered questions about many aspects of online physician ratings.

What mattered more to older Americans than the number of stars a doctor received online? According to the poll, 61% said the wait time for an appointment was very important, and about 40% said the same about recommendations from other doctors or the physician's level of experience.

Meanwhile, only 7% of those polled said they had actually posted a review or rating of a doctor online -- even though older adults are much more likely than most younger people to see more than one physician, or to see physicians and other providers multiple times a year.

Among those who did look at reviews, 69% said they wouldn't select a doctor who had mostly negative reviews, while 71% said that a few bad reviews among a large number of positive reviews wouldn't keep them from choosing a physician.

Just over half of those polled said they thought physicians influence their ratings to make themselves look good. And in fact, 17% of those who posted a review said they did so because the staff at their doctor's office encouraged them to do so.


Patients are much more likely to both publicly praise and protest their experiences with doctors in online reviews than they are with restaurants and hotels, according to a Vanguard Communications analysis of 1.5 million online Yelp reviews published in December.

While doctors, hotels and restaurants each average a 3.5 star rating out of five stars possible on the business review website, a doctor is 64% more likely to receive a five star review but 194% more likely to receive a one-star review.

The data suggests that while people's experiences with doctors are distinctly polarizing, their expectations of restaurants and hotels are more nuanced.

The good news for providers, though, is that doctors' online reviews do not rate generally better or worse than other businesses. Rather, the polarizing effects of a disappointing patient experience are more dangerous to medical practices than other businesses.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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