5 On Your Side

Online reviews are not best way to find new doctor

Posted May 8, 2017 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2017 5:38 p.m. EDT

Searching for a new doctor can be complex, even without all the ongoing uncertainty surround health care.

While many people ask friends and family for recommendations, plenty go online to hunt for reviews.

In fact, about 60 percent of consumers say online reviews are important when they pick a health care provider.

According to a new study, however, that may not be the best idea.

JC de los Rios hasn't seen a doctor since he left his previous one two years ago, and he says he's been checking online reviews for months.

"I definitely need a doctor right now, and I'm looking, but it hasn't been easy," he said. "You don't get enough information to really make a good decision about a doctor."

The Journal of the American Medical Association says that's the problem. They checked websites such as Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals and Yelp.

"The JAMA study found that some doctors on these sites only have one review, and many had fewer than seven," Consumer Reports' health and food editor Trisha Calvo said. "We don't think that's enough feedback for such an important decision."

Looking for sensitive background info on a potential doctor? You'll probably have to dig even further.

"You won't find information on malpractice claims, sanctions or medical board actions on certain review sites," Calvo said. "For those, you'll need to dig through state medical board records, and they may not be so easy to navigate."

Consumer Reports says checking North Carolina's Medical Board records can offer a more complete picture of a doctor.

Consumer Reports is advocating for rules that require doctors to inform patients, if, for instance, they are on probation.

Also, experts say you should check into the hospital doctors may be affiliated with. Consumer Reports' hospital ratings can help.