More than 4 in 10 older adults have used online physician rating websites, survey finds

When asked to identify factors that were very important in selecting a physician, more U.S. adults ages 50 to 80 years chose online ratings or reviews than where the physician trained or attended medical school.


More than 40% of older adults in the U.S. have now used online physician rating websites, and the most likely users are women, those with higher levels of education, and those with a chronic medical condition, a recent survey study found.

Researchers conducted the nationally representative survey in May 2019 through the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. The survey used measures adapted from a previous national survey and asked U.S. adults ages 50 to 80 years participating in a panel whether they had ever looked up online physician ratings for themselves and whether online ratings and other factors, such as accepting insurance and word-of-mouth recommendations, were very, somewhat, or not important when selecting a physician for themselves. A multivariable logistic regression analysis estimated associations of respondent characteristics with ever having used online physician ratings and with indicating that online physician ratings were very important when selecting a physician for themselves. The researchers estimated the adjusted prevalence of each outcome as a function of respondent characteristics. Results were published as a brief research report online on April 13 by Annals of Internal Medicine.

Overall, 2,256 of 2,966 (76.1%) older adults who were offered the survey completed it. More than four in 10 older adults (42.9%) reported that they had ever looked up ratings or reviews online for a physician for themselves. Use of online ratings or reviews was more prevalent among women than men (48.2% vs. 37.1%), those with higher levels of education (50.2% for at least some college and 49.0% for bachelor's degree or higher vs. 33.2% high school or less), and those with at least one chronic medical condition (45.2% vs. 38.5%). Among factors respondents perceived as being very important when selecting a physician, a physician's online ratings or reviews were ranked ninth (20.3%), above where the physician trained or attended medical school (17.4%). Online ratings were considered very important nearly as often as word-of-mouth recommendations from family or friends (23.0%). Respondents who answered that online ratings or reviews are very important when selecting a physician were more often racial/ethnic minorities and less often had a bachelor's degree or higher.

Among other limitations, the study had the potential for recall bias, used survey measures that had not undergone psychometric evaluation, and was unable to generate more detailed descriptions of responses within and across subgroups defined by race/ethnicity and chronic condition, the authors said. They added that the respondents could have had different attitudes toward online physician rating sites from nonrespondents.

“Because some older adults view ratings and reviews from online sites as an important source of information when selecting a physician, policymakers and clinicians should seek to ensure the validity and reliability of online rating information and help patients understand both its potential and limitations,” the authors wrote.

A cover story in the February 2020 ACP Internist reported on the pros and cons of online physician ratings.