Perspective from Ariba Khan, MD, MPH, AGSF
Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to determine the researchers’ relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.
April 12, 2021
2 min read

Many older Americans use online ratings when choosing physicians

Perspective from Ariba Khan, MD, MPH, AGSF
Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to determine the researchers’ relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.
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More than 40% of older adults in the United States said they utilized online ratings or reviews when choosing their doctor, according to survey data published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The online ratings and reviews were viewed as “very important” nearly as much as verbal recommendations from respondents’ family and friends, and more often than a where a physician trained or went to medical school, researchers reported.

In a survey of 2,256 Americans aged 50 to 80 years, 42.9% reported using online ratings and reviews when selecting a physician
Kullgren JT, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2021;doi:10.7326/M20-7600.

“We did this research because online ratings and reviews are increasingly available to the public, and it is unclear how older adults — who visit physicians more than any other age group — use and value this information when choosing a physician,” Jeffrey T. Kullgren, MD, MS, MPH, a research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, told Healio Primary Care.

Jeffrey T. Kullgren

Kullgren and colleagues reviewed answers from 2,256 Americans aged 50 to 80 years, most of them women (n = 1,192) and white (n = 1,687), who responded to the National Poll on Healthy Aging in May 2019. The respondents answered questions about online habits and other factors when choosing a doctor.

The researchers wrote that more than four in 10 respondents (42.9%; 95% CI, 40.7%-45.1%) said they had obtained online ratings or reviews for a physician when choosing one for themselves. This process was more prevalent among women than men (48.2% vs. 37.1%), those with at least one chronic medical condition (45.2% vs. 38.%), and those with at least some college education (50.2%) or higher (49%) compared with those with a high school education or less (33.2%).

Kullgren said he was surprised to find that many older adults looked up online ratings and reviews.

“There is often a perception that online information sources are more used by, and useful to, younger patients, but our results suggest that many older patients are engaging with this information too,” he said.

The researchers also found that criteria older adults rated as “very important” when choosing a physician included whether the physician accepted their health insurance (93%; 95% CI, 91.8%-94.1%) and whether the physician was the same race/ethnicity as them (2.4%; 95% CI, 1.7%-3.2%). Although online physician ratings and reviews ranked ninth on the criteria for choosing a physician, they were deemed “very important” (20.3%; 95% CI, 18.5%-22.1%), almost as much as verbal recommendations (23%; 95% CI, 21.2%-25%). Online ratings were perceived to be “very important” more often among racial/ethnic minorities and less often among respondents with at least a bachelor's degree.

According to Kullgren, the findings underscore the importance of ensuring that online information regarding physicians is accurate and trustworthy, and that patients comprehend the information’s “potential and limitations.”

“Physicians should know that many older patients use online ratings and reviews when choosing a physician and perceive this information to be very important,” Kullgren continued. “However, physicians should keep these findings in perspective and know that many other factors are more influential when older adults choose a physician.”