Review Sites - Can we trust them?
Choosing a doctor is one of the most important health decisions you’ll make. Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to find reliable information about specific doctors or practices. Should you use online review sites? Can you really trust them?
How do review sites compare?
Many Americans consult online physician ratings sites. About 59% say that such sites were “somewhat important” in choosing a doctor.
Many reviews are focused on customer service. Friendliness of the staff, waiting time and whether the doctor spent enough time with the patient.
♦ Most reviews do not address a doctor’s skill, experiences, and success or failure rates.
You are more likely to read comments like, “The best doctor ever!” or “I felt like I was being rushed.” Neither of those comments can really helped you understand the doctor's ability to correctly diagnose and treat your condition.
If your goal is successful knee replacement, these sites tell you very little. You need to use them together with recommendations from friends, neighbors and other physicians.
If you wish to dig deeper, read Choosing a Good Surgeon and how to check a surgeon's qualifications.
This is considered the largest site. The site has been cleaned up a bit. It used to be heavy on advertisement. General searches will return FEATURED doctors at the top of the list which are usually not the closest and may not be the best rated.
Search by name works well. The database pulled doctors in our location. But the results always defaulted to Most Relevant and never the closest. The list can easily be resorted by clicking on a distance button.
• Consumer Affairs reports that HealthGrades uses paid advertisement that shows above all other providers with free profiles. That might explain why their search results bare a lot of similarity to sites like Amazon that displays sponsors first. HealthGrades does not state they are doing this but the FEATURED doctors appear at the top of the list.
• Education appears to be documented with a bit more details than Vitals. This might have to do with more providers logging in and completing this section themselves. The FEATURED doctors tend to have lengthy histories while everyone else has a few sentences.
Reviews are listed but there is some inconstancy when it comes to being able to read them. We found some doctors with 23 responses but only three or four reviews were actually visible. Looking closer we found the FEATURED doctors have more reviews that are readable. In some cases, there is a link to See more reviews.
♦ The site allows for lengthy reviews. You can be anonymous but you will need to provide an email address for verification purposes. This adds some sense of trust to the reviews.
Reviewers are asked a lot of questions to try to rate both the doctor and his staff. Trustworthiness, helpfulness, amount of time spent with the patient, listening to the patient and explaining well are some of the questions directed toward the doctor. The staff and office questions focus on cleanliness, friendliness and wait time.
This site has more advertising than HealthGrades. The ads are forced into the sidebars of the webpages rather than plastering them in the way of the reviews.
It is possible to search by name, specialty or condition in your area. Search returns a list of doctors with Sponsored at the top of the list even though they may be far from your location. The list is sortable by distance, rating and insurance accepted.
♦ Insurance accepted - it always best to call the doctor's office and check. Don't depend on review sites to keep this information up-to-date.
• There are fewer reviews at Vitals than at HealthGrades but it is possible to see them all. Many of the reviews are only star ratings without comments.
• The comment section is not limited, you are permitted to write quite a bit but many people don't.
Leaving an anonymous review was too easy. They did not ask for any form of verification.
Even though the number of reviews may be less than HealthGrades this is a site worth visiting.
Not a first choice. This site returned the least number of reviews in our location.
Searching is not easy to do here. This was the case over one year ago. The site has not progressed.
• Search by name does not work well because the database returns doctors with last names that may be anywhere in the United States, not in our location at all.
• Search by location gives a listing but there is no indication of the doctors' address unless you open each listing. The list is not sortable by distance or even alphabetical order. You can sort by male or female but for the most part you have to just scroll through the names.
♦ Credential information like education and biography is very limited. Many doctors do not even list where they went to school.
It is easy to view the reviews. They appear to show most of the reviews but they are not consistent. For some doctors they show all, but for others they might display only half. They do allow lengthy comments.
Yelp is thought of as a review site for restaurants and stores. But in the early days of Yelp it was a place to find doctor reviews and ratings.
♦ Yelp is no longer a go to place for reading about individual doctors. These days they display mostly reviews related to practices.
The easiest way to find the section related to medical professionals is to type Health & Medical in the search bar.
Health & Medical section will display a list of practices. Click on the all filters to refine your search by type, such as Internal Medicine.
The internal medicine category returns a long list. The list can only be sorted based on Recommended, Highest Rated and Most Reviewed. Why a practice is recommend is not clear since many have poorer ratings then non-recommended ones.
Reviews appear to be all visible along with the name of the reviewer. This makes the reviews feel a little more believable than other sites. However, only email addresses are verified when a review is submitted so it is still possible to have fake reviews.
Google is the world’s biggest search engine. Many doctors want the power of Google for showcasing their practice.
The number of actual reviews in our area proved to be very small. Those that we found seemed more trustworthy than the ones on other sites.
Consumer Reports echoed this feeling in an article. "Google reviews can be more trustworthy than others because the reviewer is not anonymous."
• Getting reviews on Google is not so easy both for the doctor’s office and the person who wants to write a review. The doctor’s office must have a Google business account and the patient must have a Google account or a Gmail address to write a review.
The number of reviews may be smaller than other sites, still it is worth a quick search at Google.
Wellness reviews are appearing as links on a number of health insurance websites. More and more provider directories are now trying to present some form of doctor reviews for their providers. Some are internal but most are linked to outside sites like Wellness.com.
♦ A search of the internet finds a number of complaints about this site filtering out bad reviews. Some people are claiming fake positive reviews. We could not determine the truth to these claims but the fact that it was easy to find complaints suggests we should be a little cautious here.
The site focuses on health and wellness. To start a physician search you first have to go to the right side of the screen and select a specialty type and state. This brings up a large list which can be refined by zip code.
♦ There is no search by name.
• They display all Featured Providers first even though many may be far from your location or have very few reviews. This is a marketing platform first and information and review second.
Doctors closer to our location were at the bottom of the list and not featured. We found a number of doctors we know were still showing up at addresses they left years ago.
Overall, we do not see much value in this site at this time for doctor reviews.