24 February 2012
Americans increasingly post and consult online physician rankings, yet we know little about this new phenomenon of public physician quality reporting. Physicians worry these rankings will become an outlet for disgruntled patients.
To describe trends in patients’ online ratings over time, across specialties, to identify what physician characteristics influence online ratings, and to examine how the value of ratings reflects physician quality.
We used data from RateMDs.com, which included over 386,000 national ratings from 2005 to 2010 and provided insight into the evolution of patients’ online ratings. We obtained physician demographic data from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Area Resource File. Finally, we matched patients’ ratings with physician-level data from the Virginia Medical Board and examined the probability of being rated and resultant rating levels.
We estimate that 1 in 6 practicing US physicians received an online review by January 2010. Obstetrician/gynecologists were twice as likely to be rated ( P < .001) as other physicians. Online reviews were generally quite positive (mean 3.93 on a scale of 1 to 5). Based on the Virginia physician population, long-time graduates were more likely to be rated, while physicians who graduated in recent years received higher average ratings ( P < .001). Patients gave slightly higher ratings to board-certified physicians ( P = .04), those who graduated from highly rated medical schools ( P = .002), and those without malpractice claims ( P = .1).
Online physician rating is rapidly growing in popularity and becoming commonplace with no evidence that they are dominated by disgruntled patients. There exist statistically significant correlations between the value of ratings and physician experience, board certification, education, and malpractice claims, suggesting a positive correlation between online ratings and physician quality. However, the magnitude is small. The average number of ratings per physician is still low, and most rating variation reflects evaluations of punctuality and staff. Understanding whether they truly reflect better care and how they are used will be critically important.