Parents Are Increasingly Suspicious of Online Doctors' Ratings

A majority of parents who seek online ratings to help decide their next visit to the doctor do not rely on online ratings-some even think that the ratings are fake.

These days, everybody refers to online reviews to make decisions about almost anything, be it restaurants, cars, or gadgets. The recent explosion of online rating sites has not spared healthcare providers. But a majority of parents who seek online ratings to help decide their next visit to the doctor do not rely on online ratings—some even think that the ratings are fake.

A new report published by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National poll on Children’s Health finds that more than two-thirds of parents believe some online doctor reviews are fake, while slightly fewer say there are not enough ratings to make a good decision.

“Online rating sites are becoming an increasingly common and potentially influential source of information for parents as they choose a doctor,” says David Hanaeur, MD, the lead author of the report and a pediatrician at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Websites reviewing doctors are readily available, but concerns about how trustworthy they are may be preventing parents from using them broadly.”

Lack of Trust in Doctor Rating Websites

The report was based on a household survey of randomly selected parents more than 18 years of age. Conducted in January 2016, the survey included parents with at least one 1 between the ages 0 and 17

Mothers (36%) were more likely to refer to online ratings for the decisions than fathers (22%). In general, nearly 30% of the parents had referred to online ratings for either a family member or themselves in the past year. Nearly two-thirds of the parents who answered said they selected or avoided a doctor based on the ratings they viewed.

However, the majority of parents have concerns about doctor rating websites in general. Nearly two-thirds of parents believe some ratings may be fake. Some even feel that there are not enough ratings on the websites to make a good decision.

More than half of parents feel doctors may influence the person who leaves ratings, a belief that was not unfounded. Among the parents in this survey who had ever left an online rating about a doctor (11% overall), nearly one-third (30%) reported that the doctor or office staff had asked them to do so.

In general, older parents were more skeptical of the reviews than younger parents. Out of the parents ages 30 and above, 71% were concerned about the possibility of fake reviews compared to 59% of parents under age 30. Older parents were also more concerned with the lack of reviews to help them come to a decision compared to younger parents.

The Need for More Accurate and Authentic Reviews

The survey proves that 1 of every 3 parents refers to online reviews for their healthcare decisions. This means that online rating sites are a common source of information for parents. But because of increasing concerns over their accuracy and authenticity, parents are refraining from making full use of the available ratings.

Parents believe that the doctors invite only a few patients to leave ratings, hence making the reviews biased and unreliable. In order to convince parents that the reviews are not manipulated, rating sites could implement closed-loop ratings meaning that the identity of each reviewer is verified by the website. Doctors, too, need to become more engaged and encourage more participants in the ratings process.