Doctor ratings: The first vote grows more important

Many physicians continue to be fearful of online rating sites, despite evidence that they don’t have anything to worry about.

Multiple studies, including one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine (saying that 88% of physician reviews were positive), to a more recent one from the Journal of Urology (86% positive), say that the majority of physician ratings are better than most doctors would think.

Reconcile these findings with the recent study that shows that online ratings in general are influenced by the so-called herd effect.

From the journal, Science, researchers found that a person was 32% more likely to give a news story an up vote on an aggregated news site if it already had a positive rating. In other words,

… a positive nudge, [the researchers] said, can set off a bandwagon of approval.

“Hype can work,” said Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and feed on itself as well.”

If people tend to herd together on popular opinions, that could call into question the reliability of ‘wisdom of the crowd’ ratings on Web sites like Yelp or Amazon and perhaps provide marketers with hints on how to bring positive attention to their products.

Let’s put aside whether online ratings can accurately ascertain the quality of the doctor, or not.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter: they’re here to stay.  44% of patients online search the web to research their doctor, and a growing number will be influenced by the ratings that pop up when a doctor is Googled.

Now that we know the power of the herd mentality, the first rating on a physician review site grows more important.

Physicians should ask all their patients to rate them online.  The aforementioned studies suggest that most of these ratings will be favorable.  And once doctors get their first positive rating, we now know it holds sway over future ones as well.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is on the editorial board of contributors, USA Today, and is founder and editor,, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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