Is There a Five Star Doctor in the House? Inside the Health Care Rating Game

Hospitals are beginning to pay attention to ratings and reviews of their doctors on sites like Yelp. In some cases, the rankings affect compensation. Hospitals are also rated—but curiously, but not surprisingly, they get trashed more often than the doctors. But do patient ratings in either case tell you what you need to know?

Amazon used reader ratings to revolutionize its book business. In the early days, no one believed we would buy books on the web because in a store you could hold it in your hand, ask the opinion of the bookseller, and read random snippets as well as the accolades on the back. But today, the situation is reversed. Walk into a bookstore and you can’t get the reviews from Publishers Weekly or reader reviews. Plus, at full price, you can feel wary.

It’s a natural extension to think reviews of doctors and hospitals give us the same leg up. But in The Best Reviews Money Can Buy, the New York Times pointed out that many Amazon book ratings are rigged. Could we fall victim to the same thing with doctors?

Here’s the catch: rigged or not, reviews don’t actually correlate with what we care about most: patient outcomes. Which would you rather have: a doctor with a great bedside manner or a grumpy character (I’m thinking Gregory House of TV fame) who will go to the ends of the Earth to figure out what ails you and get you cured?

Bottom line: when you go to a hospital and/or a doctor, it’s your odds of getting the best outcome, not the most sympathetic reaction or even good customer service, that counts, so keep that in mind when reading online reviews.

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