Dr. Ken’s Corner: More Patients Going Online to Choose Their Doctors

Choosing the “right” doctor is one of life’s major decisions.  Whether someone is looking for a primary care physician or specialist, asking friends and neighbors for recommendations continues to play a major role. But today, the ultimate decision on where to go for medical care is likely to be determined by an online image.

“Surprisingly, when patients do an online physician search, one thing they look for is the provider’s photo” (medpagetoday.com). “They want to see if the provider looks friendly,” says Andrea Ducas of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Ducas points out that there are five top qualities that patients look for in a medical practice: (1) treats patients with respect, (2) accepts my insurance, (3) shares in decision-making, (4) is responsive to phone calls, and (5) professional skill.

A recent survey showed that 72 percent of patients turn to online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor (softwareadvice.com). In the same survey, 82 percent said they “consult a reviews website with some frequency to review or post comments and ratings of healthcare staff.”  This compares to only 25% in 2013.  It’s encouraging that the majority of patient reviews are either positive or neutral. Yet seven percent of patient reviews were found to be “very negative” or “somewhat negative.” Instead of ignoring negative comments, most social media and public relations consultants recommend a prompt and appropriate response while steering clear of HIPAA compliance concerns. Simply stated, respect the messenger and address the issue.

“This is huge for the healthcare industry, and is the main reason why practices, providers, and health systems need to pay attention to what people are saying about their services online,” advises Laura M. Sams, former reputation management consultant for the Carilion Clinic.  It’s now almost imperative that medical clinics and hospitals have someone monitor what patients are saying about them online and respond appropriately.

One of the more popular review sites is healthgrades.com. “With more than 30 million people a month visiting Healthgrades, having an accurate and updated profile on this site is crucial” (grouponehealthsource.com).  Healthgrades rates providers on a scale of one to five stars on items that include the office environment, staff friendliness, ease of scheduling appointments, and total wait time.  The doctor is rated on decision-making skills, time spent with patients, and how well medical conditions are explained.

Another popular site is RateMDs.com.  Physicians and their practices are rated from one to five stars for four categories: staff, helpfulness, punctuality, and knowledge.  There’s also a box where patients can leave comments.

A third “go to” site is vitals.com. “Vitals touts a mission to empower people to shop for health care like an expert, no matter where they are or what their health care needs are.”

(For more details on these and other review sites, read “10 Most Popular Physician Rating and Review Sites” at grouponehealthsource.com).