Convenience Over Reputation: Study Looks at How Older Adults Pick a Doctor

Online ratings and reviews abound, and many have checked them, so providers and policymakers should pay attention.

11:01 AM

Author | Kara Gavin

woman on computer in room
Credit: Emily Smith

Convenience and access win out over reputation when people over 50 look for a doctor for themselves, a new study finds.

But online ratings and reviews of physicians play an important role, and should receive attention from providers and policymakers, the researchers say.

About 20% of older adults called such ratings very important to them, but 43% said they had checked such reviews in the past for physicians they were considering for themselves.

Still, factors like insurance acceptance, appointment availability, location and hours won out over reputational information, although about 40% said a recommendation from another physician was very important to them. Recommendations from family and friends were rated as very important by about 20% of older adults.

SEE ALSO: Choosing a Cancer Doctor: 9 Things to Know

The new paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine is based on data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, based at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine. The new paper includes data and analysis not previously contained in a poll report issued in early 2020.

Use of physician rating sites was more common among women, those with higher levels of education, and those with chronic medical conditions.

The ratings were more likely to be considered very important by members of racial and ethnic minorities, and less likely to be seen as very important by those with bachelor's degrees and above.

"The information found on physician rating sites can vary in level of detail, and often lacks information on the clinical quality of the care the physician provides," says Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., the paper's first author and co-director of the poll. "As a result, patients may be skeptical. If someone is using online ratings, they should consider what's most important to them, and understand the potential upsides and downsides of the information they find online."

Kullgren is a primary care physician and researcher at Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center, and at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.

If someone is using online ratings, they should consider what's most important to them, and understand the potential upsides and downsides of the information they find online.
Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H.

Physicians, other providers and the health systems they may be part of could also use the new findings to shape how they offer information on their own websites. For instance, Michigan Medicine now offers physician ratings from standardized post-visit surveys of its patients, but only for physicians who have received enough ratings that address the physician's care. These can be seen in the Michigan Medicine provider index

Online physician ratings and reviews are increasingly available to the public through commercial rating sites and health systems. Although older adults visit physicians more than any other age group in the United States, little is known about how they use and perceive online ratings and reviews when choosing physicians.

SEE ALSO: Emergency Department Patients May Care Less About a Doctor's Race and Gender Than Previously Thought

Kullgren and his colleagues say the findings should prompt policymakers and clinicians to ensure the validity and reliability of online rating information and educate patients about how to best use this information in their decision making.

In addition to Kullgren, the study's authors are senior author David Hanauer, M.D., M.S., poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., and poll team members Matthias Kirch, M.S., Dianne Singer, M.P.H., and Erica Solway, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.W.

Learn more about the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Paper cited: "Use of Online Physician Ratings and Reviews by Older U.S. Adults: Results of a National Survey," Annals of Internal Medicine. DOI: 10.7326/M20-7600


More Articles About: Industry DX Community Health Emerging Technologies Geriatrics Health Care Delivery, Policy and Economics
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]

734-764-2220

Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories Illustration of prescription bottle with a refill notice
Health Lab
In drive to deprescribe, heartburn drug study teaches key lessons
An effort to reduce use of PPI heartburn drugs in veterans because of overuse, cost and potential risks succeeded, but provides lessons about deprescribing efforts.
Photo of a cluttered, messy garage
Health Lab
Chemicals stored in home garages linked to ALS risk
A Michigan Medicine study finds that storing chemicals in a garage at home may associate with an increased risk of ALS.
Exterior photograph of an urgent care clinic
Health Lab
Thinking outside the doctor’s office: How older adults use urgent care & in-store clinics
In the past two years, 60% of people age 50 to 80 have visited an urgent care clinic, or a clinic based in a retail store, workplace or vehicle, according to new findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Illustration of hand holding a smartphone with green background
Health Lab
Medicare pays for message-based e-visits. Are older adults using them?
Telehealth study of patient portal e-visits by Medicare participants shows few had an interaction for which their provider billed them.
Pregnant woman in pink shirt breaks a cigarette in half in front of her stomach
Health Lab
Virtual program to promote smoking cessation among Medicaid enrolled expectant mothers
Virtual program to promote smoking cessation among Medicaid enrolled expectant mothers
Mothers Babies Postpartum
Health Lab
Rapid rise seen in mental health diagnosis and care during and after pregnancy
Perinatal mental health research shows more pregnant people and those who have recently given birth are getting diagnosed and treated for depression, anxiety and PTSD, but disparities remain.