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Patients Unmoved by Internet Doctor Ratings

Fewer than a quarter of 1,007 California adults who responded to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation visited physician-ratings sites, according to an article in American Medical News, an online publication of the American Medical Association. And only 2 percent of those surveyed changed doctors on the basis of information from sites such as this one or this).

The article notes that even as some insurers try to put the ball in patients' hands, telling them to find a physician who meets the insurer's quality guidelines, patients appear to continue to rely more on word-of-mouth references than on ratings they find on the Internet.

Which is not to say we consumers aren't surfing the 'Net for health information: In the survey, 80 percent of adults scoured the Internet for health information. It's just that when we surf, we're usually looking for information about a specific disease or condition.

The article notes that many in the medical and consumer-protection realms distrust online ratings. Such ratings, they say, don't necessarily present a balanced view culled from the opinions of a reliable sampling of patients. What's more, Internet ratings can be skewed by dissatisfied patients, especially since most ratings are anonymous.

The new report suggests to some experts that online ratings of physicians will never catch on; others disagree. While 14 percent of Californians surveyed by Harris Interactive between November and December 2007 said they'd visited doctor-rating sites in 2004, 22 percent said they'd done so in 2007, according to the report. Some read that as a signal that physician-rating sites have a foothold and will only grow more popular.

For the record, the report says it's not just online doctor ratings that people ignore. The article cites a study issued in May showing that although lots of people (56 percent, 49 percent, and 39 percent of those surveyed, respectively) had used the Internet to research music, real estate and cellphones, only 7 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, said the information they gleaned online had a major effect on their purchase.

It never has occurred to me to check any of my doctors' reputations online. How about you? Do you check them out before your checkup?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Business of Health  
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