Online Doctor Reviews Don't Reflect Validated Patient Satisfaction Surveys

Ryan Black
APRIL 03, 2018

Skyline of the Mayo Clinic campus in Rochester, MN. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Michael Hicks. Image has been cropped for size.

Online reviews are typically biased toward extreme opinions. That’s concerning, but choosing to skip out on a great meal because a few people had a rude server in 2016 won’t fundamentally change a consumer’s life.

When it comes to choosing a physician, however, making a selection based on online ratings could indeed carry big consequences. According to Mayo Clinic researchers, 1 in 6 doctors are now rated online—and those online ratings don’t match up with validated patient satisfaction surveys.

A team led by R. Jay Widmer, MD, PhD and Sandhya Pruthi, MD, both of the Mayo Clinic compared physicians from Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus who had negative online reviews to other physicians who did not. They used the Press Ganey Patient Satisfaction Survey (PG PSS), a validated measurement tool that rates both patient-physician and non-physician appointment experiences on a scale of 0 to 5.

They identified 113 physicians who had negative online reviews, and created a random, matched cohort of physicians in similar roles that did not. Physicians came from pretty much every department within Mayo Clinic, ranging from dental (where they identified 1 clinician with negative reviews) to physical medicine and rehabilitation (where they identified 12).

And what they found was no correlation between PG PSS scores and negative online reviews. There was no significant difference in mean score of physician-patient interactions (4.04 for those with negative reviews, 4.05 for those without) or performance percentile.

It was a different story when it came to non–physician-specific means, however. Those were consistently lower for all doctors, but “significantly lower among those with negative online reviews.” In an accompanying editorial, Bradley C. Leibovich, MD, writes that those can include gripes about institutional facilities, parking, waiting times, and interactions with the nursing or desk staff.

What does this mean for physicians and health systems? The authors say it should be a bit of a wake-up call: “Perhaps the time has come for improved mechanisms to support health care organizations and their physicians to allow a more qualified and verified form of PSS scores to be included online in an attempt to overcome often single and unsubstantiated online reviews by open source online websites,” they write.

Reputation is important, and doctors are often unaware of the reputation that they’re being assigned by online ratings—even if someone’s complaints have more to do with the doctor’s office parking lot than the doctor’s expertise. Doctors and their health systems should be more aware of such ratings, the study concludes.

There’s also a lesson in there for patients, Leibovich adds: “A certain measure of circumspection is needed in assessing the basis and cause for negative online reviews and the prudence and benefit of pursuing other sources of information that may refute or corroborate such reviews.”

And even beyond non-physician interactions, there’s a chance that valid complaints about a physicians’ manners might still dissuade patients from seeing good doctors. Liveworld’s Chief of Social Strategy pointed that out in a previous interview with Healthcare Analytics News™. “They don't rate the doctor’s ability to treat your condition. They don't rate outcomes. They don’t rate anything about how they practice medicine: They rate whether they're nice,” she said.

The new study and the accompanying Leibovich editorial were both published this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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