Study asks: What are patients saying about doctors in online reviews?

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Whether it’s deciding where to eat or what car to buy, people increasingly turn to online reviews to learn more before they make a purchase. The same applies for health care, with patients sharing their experiences with physicians, which others use to make decisions on where to seek care. The importance of patient online reviews (PORs) in medical decision-making and opportunities they present for patient-provider communication has led to many studies of PORs. However, to date there has been no review of the entire body of research on PORs.

In a new multidisciplinary study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Y. Alicia Hong, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and colleagues from Texas A&M University and the University of South Carolina, conducted a systematic review of research on PORs.

The researchers examined the characteristics, methods and findings of more than 60 studies of PORs. They also identified research trends and areas needing more study and made recommendations for future research.

Hong and colleagues carried out an extensive literature search, looking for peer-reviewed studies focused on PORs of physicians or hospitals. Their search yielded 63 studies dating back to 2009, most of which were published after 2015 and conducted in the United States. The researchers analyzed these studies, including study design and major findings.

The researchers found that more than 40 percent of the studies reported average POR scores, which were mostly positive at roughly four on a one-to-five scale. However, they also found that PORs covered a relatively small number of physicians and hospitals, had widely ranging review totals and focused more on specialists, especially surgeons.

Several studies noted that PORs correlated well with traditional patient surveys. Some analyses of PORs led to new domains of patient experiences not covered by traditional patient surveys. A small number of studies examined the relationship between PORs and clinical outcomes, and overall such a relationship was weak.

“Research on PORs is growing rapidly, but that growth is outpaced by that of PORs themselves, thus more high-quality studies are needed,” Hong said.

Other A&M authors include Tiffany A. Radcliff, assistant dean for research, School of Public Health; Lisa T. Wigfall, assistant professor, Department of Health and Kinesiology, College of Education and Human Development; and Richard L. Street Jr., professor, Department of Communication, College of Liberal Arts.

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