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Are online doctor ratings accurate?

It is hard to pick a doctor. Everyone would like to feel that they are entrusting their medical care to someone who is truly excellent. But how can you find the best doctor for your particular problem? Recently, online doctor rating websites have emerged to fill this gap in the public market. Doctors are often assigned a number of stars based on prior patient reviews. Research shows that many patients search on these sites before choosing their physician. Two of the more popular sites are vitals and health grades.

The problem is that there is also research showing that these sites are not necessarily reflective of physician quality. Furthermore, the websites don’t know or report things that truly matter such as success rates, complication rates, and outcomes. A recent article in Ortho Today also showed that many of the websites don’t even agree with each other and there is speculation that doctors use marketing companies and other mechanisms to boost their reviews.

Some large players in the healthcare sector have tried to work around these rating sites by essentially creating their own ratings. This started with the University of Utah and actually has been adopted by Sentara locally. They collect ratings from their own patients and report them on their website. The idea being that by having their own rating site they can drown out the noise of the other sites. If you look up a Sentara Medical Group doctor there is a good chance that you will see a “rating” on their webpage presented as a number of stars. This is internally collected data. Many hospital systems do this.

So to sum up the current state of online doctor ratings we have gotten to a point where there are lots of rating companies that present data that is not fact checked, may be gamed, and doesn’t necessarily reflect meaningful outcome. On the other end of the spectrum, we have physician groups who are collecting and reporting their own ratings. The whole thing is ridiculous! It would be like Honda running and reporting its own crash test data. Who would trust that?

So what can you do when picking a surgeon? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Check their training credentials. You probably want to see someone who specializes in and is an expert in your problem. Look for a surgeon who is fellowship trained in the area of interest.
  2. Ask people who know. If you are luck enough to know someone who works in the operating room ask them who they would go to.
  3. Ask your primary care doctor
  4. Ask other peopel in the medical field who you are acquainted with. They may not know the answer but there is a good chance they will know someone who does.

It’s definitely stressful when picking a surgeon, and of course you want to make the perfect choice. But unfortunately on-line rating sites aren’t that helpful.

Brad Carofino, MD Dr. Brad Carofino is a board-certified (American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery), fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder & upper extremity surgery. Dr. Carofino is an expert in shoulder replacement surgery, minimally invasive arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, and complex reconstructive procedures of the upper extremity.

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