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Feb 18, 2014 07:20 PM EST

More Patients Consulting Doctor-Review Websites Before Scheduling An Appointment

Rather than choosing the doctor/practice in closest proximity, more Americans are finding their next care provider based on patient ratings, Web MD reported.

According to a survey published in the most recent addition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, two-thirds of responders were aware of patient-rating websites (like Healthgrades.com and RateMDs.com) and a quarter of all questioned had used such services. Both findings represent an increase compared to previous studies, according to lead researcher Dr. David Hanauer of the University of Michigan Medical School.

Not only are potential patients using review sites, they're taking the advice they receive semi-seriously. Thirty five percent of site subscribers said they chose a particular doctor because of a positive rating; 37 percent said they avoided a doctor because of a less than satisfactory rating. As a caveat to that last fact, ratings tend to focus on positive characteristics rather than negative ones, according to the study

Though Hanauer notes that researchers "don't really know how trustworthy the ratings on these sites are," Healthgrade's VP for informatics and strategy, Evan Marks, contends that their site includes more than just a star-based system as seen on Yelp, but a "very comprehensive compendium of information," as he told Web Md. That compendium mimics a customer satisfaction survey, inquiring about such topics as doctor communication, ease of appointment, friendliness of staff, and more. Healthgrade also posts items of public record, like the college the doctors attended, the insurance they take, the type of surgery they perform, etc.  

Hanauer and Marks agree on some level that patients shouldn't use review sites as their only source of information, but given the relatively few subjective-based sources beyond recommendations from friends, family, and acquaintances, they "do seem to be filling a void," as Hanauer put it to Web MD

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