Do doctors’ online ratings compare with their actual surgical outcomes?

Nowadays we use the internet for everything; cloud-based software, finding directions, checking restaurant and movie reviews, and even for recommendations – holiday destinations, hotels, businesses, service providers, and even doctors.

While one can usually trust the general public for food and accommodation recommendations, how knowledgeable are reviewers when it comes to finding a health professional and the quality of their service? Should patients who need to see a medical specialist trust the number of stars in front of a physician’s name on an online listing as an indicator of the quality of care provided by that doctor?

A recent study by Okike et al, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research late last year looked at just that. With the purpose of determining whether a physician’s online ratings are equivalent to their actual performance, they compared cardiac surgeons’ online ratings to an accepted measure of quality: 30-day risk-adjusted mortality rates following coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.

In the USA, a number of states have risk-adjusted mortality rates publicly reported for all cardiac surgeons. Using that data, the group of researchers compared each surgeon’s results with their online reviews and ratings. What they found was absolutely no correlation between a surgeon’s actual performance and their online ratings. In fact, almost 80 per cent of surgeons researched had an online rating of at least 4 out of 5, regardless of their actual surgical performance.

In doctors’ ratings, values of (extremely) high satisfaction (4 or 5 stars) and ratings of (very) poor satisfaction with the medical specialists are typically overrepresented. The reason for this is that only certain patients (very satisfied patients, very unsatisfied patients) air their feelings. Doctors’ ratings don’t collect the totality of patients that were seen without the availability of a denominator.

Expectedly, this study suggests that online ratings are not at all a true reflection of a surgeon’s performance. So if patients are trying to understand how doctors perform against their peers, or how their institution is compares  at a national level, an online search is probably not the best way to go.

While it is difficult to publish comparable information about specialists to the general public and patients, as individual surgeons, hospital units and institutions, it is extremely important that we have access to benchmarking information about our performance.

This is where the self-auditing tool SurgicalPerformance can assist medical specialists. You can be sure that the reports produced are true and reflect your actual performance compared to other specialists in your field. Not only does this information serve you as a guideline to improve your standards, it can also act as a tool to reassure your patients of your ability to perform whatever procedure they need.

The fact that all data entered into SurgicalPerformance is de-identified provides all practitioners and patients with the highest level of confidentiality, which is used to encourage honest reporting and establish a safe learning environment.

If you’d like to learn more about SurgicalPerformance, and how you can have it implemented at your hospital unit or institution, have a look at our Capability Statement, here.

To read the full research report on the Journal of Medical Internet Research, click here.