Physician rating websites struggle to provide high-quality, informational content

Websites where users rate physicians are often lacking in quality standards and transparency, according to a study published June 14 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Searching for reviews on physicians and hospitals has become the norm, but questions remain about the quality, transparency and accuracy of these sites. In this study, researchers from the Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland, examined physician-rating websites (PRW) in German- and English- speaking countries.

“The content and quality of PRWs is a concern for both medical practitioners and website users,” wrote fist author Fabia Rothenfluh, PhD, and colleagues. “Biases in the user and the data, the risk of false allegations combined with website providers’ negligence to systematically control PRW reviews, the anonymity of the ratings, as well as health care consumers’ inability to judge certain aspects of care lead physicians to doubt the usefulness of PRW review. Both physicians and health care consumers demand quality standards on PRWs that increase transparency while protecting both parties’ freedom of speech and privacy. These insights call for an assessment of the availability and quality of PRWs to evaluate to what extent physicians’ and health care consumers’ worries are justified.”

 

Researchers analyzed 143 PRW collected from search results on Google, Bing and Yahoo in August 2016. Content and quality were low across PWR in Germany and the United States. Websites registered in the United Kingdom had the highest quality rating, followed by those in Australia. PWR most commonly asked users to score overall performance, punctuality and wait times.

“This study evidences that websites that provide physician rating should improve and communicate their quality standards, especially in terms of physician and user protection, as well as transparency,” concluded Rothenfluh and colleagues. “In addition, given that quality standards on physician-rating websites are low overall, the development of transparent guidelines is required. Furthermore, attention should be paid to the financial goals that the majority of physician-rating websites, especially the ones that are commercially owned, pursue.”