The most accurate physician reviews? They may not be where you think.

Hospitals' self-published physician satisfaction surveys may provide a more thorough, reliable measure of physician quality than third-party websites such as Healthgrades or Vitals, argues a study published in the journal Orthopedics.

Study details

For the study, researchers examined 12 hospitals or medical practices that publicly shared their self-conducted patient satisfaction survey data for orthopedic surgeons starting in August of 2016. The study looked at more than 400 orthopedic surgeons from institutions like Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, and Northwell Health.

The surveys conducted by the hospitals occurred at the time of the patient's visit or were sent via email or regular mail to randomly selected patients, with response rates ranging from 18% to 30%. Most institutions required at least 30 ratings from the last 12 to 18 months to make a physician's ratings public, and most published all reviews—positive or negative—as long as they included no offensive, slanderous, or privacy-violating language.

The researchers then compared the physicians' ratings to their ratings on the following commercial websites:

  • Healthgrades.com;
  • RateMDs.com;
  • UCompareHealthCare.com; and
  • Vitals.com.

The researchers found that the surveys conducted by providers typically reported higher ratings for each doctor, as well as higher average patient satisfaction scores.

The researchers argued that, generally, the surveys conducted by providers offered better-quality data, reflecting more responses and giving more accurate depictions of patient satisfaction.

Experts react

Bradford Waddell, an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, said the anonymity of the commercial websites can lead to unreliable reviews. "While hospital surveys are distributed to patients who received care from a specific doctor, ratings on sites such as Healthgrades and Vitals are often anonymous, and you really don't know who is posting a review," he said. "We believe hospital surveys filled out by patients provide data of a higher quality and are a better indication of patient satisfaction."

William Wyatt, the VP of data science for Healthgrades—one of the external ratings providers studied in the research—said that the "subtle differences between doctor reviews" wasn't surprising, and he emphasized the importance of online reviews overall. "Online reviews create a more holistic image of a physician and help consumers understand what to expect from their provider—whether they turn to a hospital's website or a third party site like Healthgrades.com to access these reviews," he said.

He added that patients who post on third-party sites may not have filled out a health system's survey, since they may have only seen the provider once before switching to a different one (Lagasse, Healthcare Finance, 3/9; Oliver, U.S. News & World Report, 3/9).

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