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By January 1, 2009No Comments

Although hordes of consumers use the Internet as a tool for seeking out medical information, new studies show that only a scarce few are using physician ratings sites to choose their doctor. More than 80% of California based adults say they use the Internet for health-related information, such as medical symptoms and diagnoses, according to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation. However, only a handful of adults are visiting and using the information from physician ratings sites. As a matter of fact, less than 25% of those surveyed say they have visited physician ratings sites, and only 2% of those actually made a physician change based on the information they found. Even fewer, less than 1%, say they made a hospital or health plan switch based on online ratings.

Will ratings sites ever take off?

Some experts say these statistics prove it will be a long while before physician ratings sites grow in popularity — and that they may never catch on at all. However, other industry professionals believe that few patients visit these sites because the market is still in its infancy. They believe that as the ratings information becomes more in-depth, more consumers will flock to the sites. Additionally, some insurers are encouraging members to use their own ratings sites. In these types of networks, members pay less out of pocket if they visit a physician that meets the insurer’s “quality criteria.” However, many doctors claim this system is flawed.

Physicians should still watch their online reps

Although physician ratings sites aren’t skyrocketing in popularity as of yet, industry experts say that physicians should still be concerned about their online reputation. For many decades, word-of-mouth has been deemed the most influential advertisement for any business. Therefore, continuous negative word-of-mouth could lead to a medical professional’s downfall. Patients are already sharing information online about medical conditions and other health issues, and this communication can spread like wildfire. Some experts predict the details about specific physicians, especially those who are either exceptionally great or really terrible, will soon follow suit in the online world.

Small, but growing

Although few patients are actually using the information gleaned from physician ratings sites, these sites have seen an uptick in visitors over the past few years. According to a Harris Interactive survey of 1,007 Californians, the number of people who say they have visited one of these sites has grown from just 14% in 2004 to 22% in 2007. Some medical industry experts believe the only reason more patients aren’t taking action based on the information they find is because the sites often don’t include details specific to their needs. Additionally, most patients are not willing to switch physicians if they are happy with their current provider. However, they may be more likely to take online advice if they are unhappy with their doctor, have been diagnosed with a medical condition or if they have recently moved.

Keeping a close eye on ratings sites

Although these sites have yet to take off, the American Medical Association and other organized medicine groups are keeping watch over the market. In some cases, the AMA has opposed ratings sites. As a matter of fact, the association joined forces with other medical groups in Missouri to push back UnitedHealth Group’s plan to use claims data to rank physicians.

Additionally, some states are regulating physician ranking and ratings networks. For example, some states require health plans to use quality measures for rankings instead of price. Plus, some rules allow physicians to see the basis for their ratings and have an opportunity to appeal.