Why do people who won’t eat without checking Yelp ignore their doctor’s ratings?

online reviews

From consumer health sites like ZocDoc and Vitals, to ratings agencies like Consumer Reports, consumers have plenty of options when it comes to finding reviews about doctors, hospitals, health plans and medication. But while reviews and ratings are beginning to help guide patients’ decisions and give providers feedback, a report out this week from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that most people aren’t taking their medicine.

According to the report, 48 percent of the 1,000 individuals surveyed (who represent the U.S. demographic population) said that they read health care reviews online, while just 24 percent have written a review. Of those that have read reviews, 68 percent said that they used them to choose where to get health care.

It’s worth noting that those numbers are much higher than ones released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in a report earlier this year. According to Pew, just one in five Americans have consulted online reviews for treatments or drugs, doctors, or other providers.  And just three to four percent have posted reviews of their own.

The PwC report included reviews for health plans, which the Pew report didn’t, and PwC asked more specific questions about a wider set of health review sources, which could have partly contributed to the difference in their findings.

But both reports point out that despite consumers’ willingness to use reviews to guide other big purchasing decision (Pew says 8 in 10 Internet users consult reviews), they generally don’t bring that same approach to health care.

According to PwC, some of the reasons for the slow uptake include:

  • Too many options – Consumers may find it too difficult to sift through all the various sites and may not know how to identify the most accurate information.
  • Personal relationships trump individual reviews – Research has shown that when it comes to relationships with advisors, like doctors and financial advisors, people weigh trust over reviews.
  • The perception that they don’t have a choice – Potentially because of the complexity of the health care system and the recognition that health plans can limit their options, many consumers don’t believe that they have the ability to choose their hospitals. But as consumers shift to high-deductible plans, that perception is changing — and as they begin to enroll in state health exchange this fall, it will change even more, the report said.
  • Few trusted sources – Consumer Reports topped the PwC’s list of sources for health care reviews but, for the most part, patients don’t know where to turn for the most reliable information.

Choosing which doctor to see for a chronic condition or which hospital to use for a serious procedure are obviously far more complicated decisions than picking a restaurant for dinner or a new television for your living room. So it’s understandable that people may be more reticent to use health care reviews and ratings.

But as consumers continue to play a bigger role in health care decisions, they will need more transparency and information about services and providers, as well as better mechanisms for getting their voices heard. As ratings and reviews in health care mature, they’ll need to adapt to fit the industry —  for example, PwC recommends giving patients the option to search by “patients like me” or providing customer service representatives to help consumers navigate through information and make decisions.

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