Online rating platforms direct patients to higher-quality physicians: Study

Nearly 75 percent of patients turn to online reviews as the first step when searching for a new physician. Despite their popularity, it's largely been unclear whether online ratings are reliable or signal quality information to patients. A new study suggests they do. 

To conduct the study, researchers from Stanford (Calif.) University and the University of Washington in Seattle focused on whether online ratings correlate with physician quality, and whether they affect patients' physician choices. They combined physician rating data from Yelp and Medicare to assess how online ratings affect patients' healthcare decisions. 

Overall, researchers found physicians with higher ratings had higher measures of clinical quality, meaning patients who base their physician choices on online ratings "will be matched with higher-quality physicians," researchers said in a Jan. 17 news release from the American Marketing Association. The findings were published Dec. 6 in the Journal of American Marketing

Researchers found physicians with higher ratings had better educational and professional credentials measured by board certification status, ranks of schools and accreditations. 

"Physicians with higher ratings show higher adherence to clinical guidelines, and patients of physicians with higher ratings display better clinical outcomes," researchers said. "The findings indicate that online reviews are highly correlated with important measures of clinical quality and provide important quality signals to patients." 

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