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Online Physician Ratings not Associated with Quality


Study finds no correlation between online patient ratings and clinical quality

Philadelphia, PA, December 2, 2014 – Website ratings of physicians are not reflective of the quality of care that their patients receive, according to a new study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) compared patient-submitted online ratings for a sample of physicians against measures of the quality of care delivered in their practices and found no correlation.

Consumers are increasingly turning to websites with patient ratings when choosing a physician, with previous research showing that these sites influence which physicians they select. This study is the first to look at whether these ratings are associated with standard measures of clinical quality for office-based physicians in the US.

“Americans today have more resources available than ever before to help them select a physician. It is important that these resources be reliable and accurate so that consumers make informed decisions about the care they and their loved ones will receive,” said Richard J. Baron, MD, President and CEO of ABIM. “The study results make clear that online physician ratings should, at most, be a small part of the decision-making that should also include looking at other sources of quality information such as the status of a physician's board certification.”

ABIM researchers looked at 1,299 physicians who completed an ABIM PIM Practice Improvement Module® in diabetes or hypertension between July 2011 and November 2012. These modules guide physicians through a review of patient data and support quality improvement work and reporting in their practices. PIM patient survey responses and chart abstractions were compared against the ratings physicians received on eight leading, publicly available and free health-based websites. Sites were selected from Internet searches in which each physician’s name, specialty and city were entered into the Google search engine.

The comparison found that there was no statistically significant association between the online ratings given by patients about their physicians and the clinical quality of care delivered in their practices. There was, however, a small but statistically significant association between the website ratings and survey-based patient experience measures.

“Our study is important because it is one of only a handful of studies to examine the ability of physician website ratings to reflect the quality of care patients are likely to receive. The results of our study should make consumers think twice about relying only on these website ratings as a source of quality information. This study also highlights the need for more valid and reliable physician quality information to be made publicly available,” said lead author Bradley M. Gray, PhD, of ABIM.

The author noted that the weak correlation between the website ratings and quality measures could have resulted from the low number of website ratings per physician or an unrepresentative sample of patients providing the ratings. He also pointed out that the associations might have been stronger had patient comments from the websites been used in the evaluation.

View the abstract of the article in JAMA Internal Medicine.

For media inquiries, contact Erin Frantz at press@abim.org.

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