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

How do patients choose their surgeons? Are they solely guided by their GP? Recommendations by family and friends? Or do they read reviews online?

If patients rely on online ratings, how accurate are online reviewers when it comes to finding a health professional? Should patients trust the number of stars as an indicator of the quality of care provided by that doctor?

The use of doctor rating websites has been mixed by both health professionals and patients. It can be debated that online reviews promote transparency, empowers patients to be active decision makers in their healthcare, and acts as a push for underperforming physicians to improve. The downsides are they can be published anonymously, based on small numbers, are more likely to be completed by upset patients, and have the potential to defame doctors.

In the US, a survey of 1000 surgical patients found that 81% would seek consultation from a doctor based on positive reviews alone, and 77% would not seek consultation from a physician based solely on negative reviews.

When we look at the studies assessing correlation between online reviews and clinical performance, multiple studies have shown that patient online reviews are not reflective of the basic quality and value of care provided by a doctor.

For example, Daskivich et al. conducted an observational study of 78 physicians and assessed the association of consumer ratings with metrics including 30-day readmissions, length of stay, primary care physician and administrator peer-review scores. There was no association between ratings and addressing quality or value-based care. Indeed, they found consumer ratings are especially bad at identifying poorly performing physicians.

Consumer ratings are more likely to measure components of the patient experience such as office environment, wait times, overall time spent with a doctor, and staff friendliness, rather than clinical performance.

In fact, Ramachandran et al. speculates these scores are manipulated and doctors with a large number of reviews and a high rating may be employing reputation management strategies. In addition to hiring these services, they could be by implementing systems within their practices to encourage reviews from satisfied patients. Overall, most doctors tend to have a low number of online reviews. They suggest that doctors with over 100 online reviews are attempting to manage their online reputation.

Another study, Okike et al found over 80% of physicians with a low online rating were found to have a positive rating using internal hospital patient satisfaction surveys. They also noted it appears that physicians with greater number of years in practice are more likely to have a negative overall online rating than their less experienced colleagues.

Expectedly, all the research 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 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 it is important that we have access to benchmarking information about our performance.

This is where the self-auditing tool SurgicalPerformance can assist medical specialists. The reports produced 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, get in contact with us via email.