Journal of medical Internet research 2017 11 0919(11) e387 doi 10.2196/jmir.7581
Physician rating websites (PRWs) allow patients to rate, comment, and discuss physicians’ quality. The ability of PRWs to influence patient decision making and health care quality is dependent, in part, on sufficient awareness and usage of PRWs. However, previous studies have found relatively low levels of awareness and usage of PRWs, which has raised concerns about the representativeness and validity of information on PRWs.
The objectives of this study were to examine (1) participants’ awareness, use, and contribution of ratings on PRWs and how this compares with other rating websites; (2) factors that predict awareness, use, and contribution of ratings on PRWs; and (3) participants’ attitudes toward PRWs in relation to selecting a physician.
A mailed cross-sectional survey was sent to a random sample (N=1542) from four North German cities (Nordhorn, Hildesheim, Bremen, and Hamburg) between April and July 2016. Survey questions explored respondents’ awareness, use, and contribution of ratings on rating websites for service (physicians, hospitals, and hotels and restaurants) and products (media and technical) in general and the role of PRWs when searching for a new physician.
A total of 280 completed surveys were returned (280/1542, 18.16% response rate), with the following findings: (1) Overall, 72.5% (200/276) of respondents were aware of PRWs. Of the respondents who were aware of PRWs, 43.6% (86/197) had used PRWs. Of the respondents who had used PRWs, 23% (19/83) had rated physicians at least once. Awareness, use, and contribution of ratings on PRWs were significantly lower in comparison with all other rating websites, except for hospital rating websites. (2) Except for the impact of responders’ gender and marital status on the awareness of PRWs and responders’ age on the use of PRWs, no other predictors had a relevant impact. (3) Whereas 31.8% (85/267) of the respondents reported that PRWs were a very important or somewhat important information source when searching for a new physician, respondents significantly more often reported that family, friends and colleagues (259/277, 93.5%), other physicians (219/274, 79.9%), and practice websites (108/266, 40.6%) were important information sources.
Whereas awareness of German PRWs appears to have substantially increased, the use of PRWs and contribution of ratings remains relatively low. Further research is needed to examine the reasons why only a few patients are rating physicians. However, given the information inequality between provider and consumer will always be higher for consumers using the services of physicians, it is possible that people will always rely more on interpersonal recommendations than impersonal public information before selecting a physician.