Top Complaints Posted on Doc-Rating Websites

Shelly Reese

Disclosures

February 20, 2014

In This Article

Patients Take Their Complaints Online

Although medical expertise and quality of care may be central to the patient experience, they take a back seat when it comes to online reviews of physicians. Patients posting negative reviews on rating sites, such as Vitals, RateMDs, and Yelp, are often more vocal about the "softer" side of medicine than they are about clinical matters. Their complaints can sully even the most polished reputation.

Today's patients are asserting themselves. They come into the physician's office armed with data and diagnoses gleaned from the Internet, and ask-your-doctor-or-pharmacist advertising. They ask questions. They're encouraged to be partners in their care and to confront their doctors when necessary ("Doctor, please wash your hands.")

In addition, some patients are demanding, have difficult personalities, and bring their own issues and biases to medical visits. So it's no surprise that this patient base is using the Internet as a megaphone to broadcast feedback about the doctors who treat them. And they're not holding back. Whether patients are voicing valid complaints or skewed perceptions, one thing is certain: They're telling the world.

What's Their Beef?

In April 2013, researchers at Denver-based Vanguard Communications analyzed 3617 online reviews of 300 internists and ob/gyns practicing in Austin, Denver, New York City, and San Diego who earned the lowest marks on Vitals, RateMDs, and Yelp. Slightly more than one half (53%) of the posts were negative.

Patients who posted negative reviews were 4 times more likely to complain about a healthcare provider's indifference, bedside manner, or customer service than about his or her medical skills:

43.1% included complaints about poor bedside manner;

35.3% included complaints about poor customer service; and

21.5% included complaints about medical skills, such as false diagnoses and surgical mistakes.[1]

"We wanted to get a sense of what set off patients the fastest, and we found it wasn't about the doctor's medical ability; it was really about how the patient was treated," says Vanguard CEO Ron Harmon King.

Vanguard's results coincide with research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in June 2012.[2] San Francisco primary care physician Urmimala Sarkar, MD, who led the study, says patients were more than twice as likely to describe how empathetic a physician was rather than how knowledgeable. She also noted that -- contrary to physicians' fears of scathing reviews -- patient reviews were generally favorable, with nearly two thirds (63%) of reviewers recommending their internists and family practitioners.

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