Consumer Reports: Can you trust online doctor reviews?

With all the uncertainty surrounding health insurance these days, you may well find yourself looking for a new doctor.

But how to choose?

Nearly 60% of consumers say that online reviews are important when picking a health care provider — kind of like how you pick a restaurant or a plumber.

The problem according to a new study in JAMA, a leading medical journal, is websites like
Healthgrades, RateMDs , Vitals and Yelp often have too few patient reviews to be meaningful. The JAMA study found that some doctors on these sites only had one review. And many had fewer than 7. And we don’t think that’s enough feedback for such an important decision.

And you will probably have to dig further for sensitive background information that could be critical to your choice. You won’t find information on malpractice claims, sanctions or medical board actions on certain review sites. For those you’ll need to dig through state medical board records and they may not be so easy to navigate. Consumer Reports says to get a more thorough picture of a doctor — make the effort to check state medical board records. The website docinfo.org is a good place to start. You’ll get a link to the state agency if there has been action against the doctor.

Also research the hospital the doctor is affiliated with. Consumer Reports’ Hospital Ratings are a good resource for this. Consumer Reports says doctors should be more forthcoming and is calling for rules to require doctors to inform patients if, for instance, they are on probation.

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