Why people trust online reviews for dinner but not doctors

I’d give you five stars if your hands were warmer.
I’d give you five stars if your hands were warmer.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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You look at reviews before you purchase a new product or choose a restaurant for dinner, but do you read them before picking a doctor? Around one out of four US adults surveyed has used online reviews of physicians to make their healthcare choices, according to a study published Feb. 19 in JAMA. A previous study in Germany found about the same usage, with a British study reporting only 3%.

The US study of around 2,000 adults found that 19% of those surveyed called online review sites “very important” for picking a physician, with another 44% calling them “somewhat important.” It’s interesting that so many respondents see the importance of online physician reviews without owning up to using them, but that’s probably a matter of trust: 43% said they doubted the information that could be found online.

According to Oliver Kharraz, founder of online physician finder and appointment booker ZocDoc, the lack of trust has hindered physician ratings compared to those for other goods and services. Picking a doctor is a big deal, and the implications of a fake doctor’s review are more serious than those for a restaurant or salon.

Kharraz stresses the need for dependability and comprehensiveness to improve perceptions of online physician reviews. After all, people have always used reviews to find their doctors, Kharraz tells Quartz. It’s just that instead of getting them from other patients, “they got those reviews from family members,” he says. For its part, ZocDoc’s reviews come only from patients who have scheduled and seen the physician in question through ZocDoc. But there are plenty of sites banking on people warming to the idea of physician reviews generally: features comprehensive reviews along with their star ratings, and Vitals allows you to search by insurance, though those sites can’t confirm that reviewers have seen the doctor in question. And if you’re already using Yelp to make your dinner selection, you can always punch a doctor’s name in to see if she has the right bedside manner.