The Danger of Finding Doctors on Yelp

On Behalf of | Mar 24, 2018 | Medical Malpractice


The Internet is how most consumers nowadays find products or services. In the U.S., the number of Internet users in 2016 was roughly 290 million. Can Americans trust online review sites when it comes to choosing a doctor?

Yelp was founded in 2004. Every day, thousands of people visit when seeking a contractor, a florist, or a restaurant. Doctors have always been posted on Yelp and overall ratings range from one to five stars. Shannon Eis of Yelp explained that the site encourages consumers to rate aspects of their experience based on factors including bedside manner, time spent in the waiting room, and other criteria.

But is selecting a doctor based on this information a good idea?

Research Says, “Maybe Not”

A recent study at the University of Michigan found that 59% of those in the U.S. who consider online ratings of doctors say the ratings are either “somewhat” or “very” important. Other studies suggest that online ratings are not a strong indicator of patient outcomes. A research team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles compared online reviews of 78 of their medical providers against their own internal measurements of quality. The study viewed ratings from Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, UCompareHealthCare, and Rate MDs. They found minimal correlation between a doctor’s online rating and his actual ability.

A recent Bloomberg report quoted Dr. Brennan Spiegel, a leader for the study, saying that many of the ratings were influenced by factors that were not directly associated with the doctor’s skill, such as the patients’ experience with the front office or with billing. He felt that the ratings do have some merit, but should not be considered an accurate reflection of the doctor’s technical expertise. Most valuable information about doctors is based on their reviews from peers, colleagues, and administrators who work with them. While internal hospital reviews count factors such as readmission rates or compliance with medical guidelines, online ratings generally do not.

You’re Better Off Looking at Good Outcomes

Martin “Marty” Makary, a surgical professor at Johns Hopkins Medical, feels that overall patient satisfaction levels should not be underestimated. When a patient provides feedback on his experience, Makary feels it is a likely indicator of future patient experiences with the same physician.

Gina Larson of Vitals, an online research portal for patients, said their site is actively incorporating outcome-based metrics. Andrea Pearson, the chief marketing officer for Healthgrades, says ratings should be considered as just a part of choosing a physician. Healthgrades has a unique feature in that it factors in the performance of the hospitals that doctors are affiliated with in their overall ratings.

Pearson explained that consumers often base their reviews on their emotions. She finds it critical to ask for feedback on specific criteria, such as the ability to schedule an appointment quickly, the environment of the office, and the perceived efficiency of visits. While these criteria do not correlate to accuracy in diagnosing and surgical success rates, they do create a more comprehensive view of the patients’ experience.

Best Practices for Selecting a Doctor

No single method of choosing a physician is foolproof, but relying solely on Yelp reviews is a bad idea. A doctor may have a sympathetic bedside manner, but cause all sorts of complications in the operating room-and Yelp won’t tell you that! Here’s some advice for choosing a doctor for your procedure:

  • Consider doctors who have published articles in their realm of expertise. (You can search in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) Those who publish articles are more likely to have advanced levels of experience or training. However, not all excellent doctors choose to publish research or findings.
  • Ask other doctors or healthcare professionals if they have any recommendations.
  • Ask your friends or family members if they had a similar procedure and if they would recommend their doctors.
  • Check your state or city’s medical societies. (Like the Kansas City Medical Society.) They may provide valuable feedback concerning available physicians.
  • Consider the years of experience each doctor has in that specific field of practice. A doctor who does thirty hip replacements a year isn’t as desirable as a doctor who does three hundred!

One other thing you should definitely look at is any record of doctor discipline. Missouri now allows the public to search through online records for anyone who holds a state-issued professional license. Medical malpractice is no joke, so take all possible precautions before going under the knife!

If you have any questions or want to speak to a Kansas City medical malpractice attorney, call Norton & Spencer, P.C., at (816) 607-4750. Your consultation is free, and if we find negligence in our review of your medical records, we will work to get your full and fair compensation.


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