Consumer Reports: Can you trust online doctor reviews?

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With all the uncertainty surrounding health insurance these days, you may well find yourself looking for a new doctor. (WLS)

With all the uncertainty surrounding health insurance these days, you may well find yourself looking for a new doctor. But how to choose?

Nearly 60 percent of consumers say that online reviews are important when picking a health care provider - kind of like how you pick a restaurant or a plumber.

A new study said that may not be such a good idea. Consumer Reports explains.

JC de los Rios hasn't had a medical check-up since he left his last doctor two years ago. He's been carefully checking out possible internists on two doctor review websites for months, but said so far he hasn't been persuaded.

"When you go onto one of these sites, you don't get enough information to really make a good decision about a doctor," de los Rios said.

The problem, according to a new study in JAMA, a leading medical journal, is websites like Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals and Yelp often have too few patient reviews to be meaningful.

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

You will probably have to dig further for sensitive background information that could be critical to your choice.

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

Consumer Reports said to get a more thorough picture of a doctor, make the effort to check state medical board records. The website docinfo.org is a good place to start. You'll get a link to the state agency if there has been action against the doctor.

Also research the hospital the doctor is affiliated with. Consumer Reports' Hospital Ratings are a good resource for this.

Unhappy with online reviews, de los Rios relied on old fashioned word of mouth and will try his wife's primary care physician.

Consumer Reports says doctors should be more forthcoming and is calling for rules to require doctors to inform patients if, for instance, they are on probation.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org
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