When choosing a doctor for their children, most parents rely on word-of-mouth recommendations, accessible location and insurance acceptance, rather than on online ratings of doctors, based on a new poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

  •  The poll showed that only 25% of parents say they consider doctor rating websites very important in their search for a child’s physician. However, some parents are more likely than others to consider online doctor ratings important:
  •  Parents under 30 years old were more likely than older parents to say that online doctor ratings are very important.
  • Mothers were more likely than fathers to say that online doctor ratings are very important to their decisions about doctors.
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  • The data suggest that younger parents are more likely to consider online ratings, which means over time we can expect the use of these websites will increase.
  • On the other hand, very few adults (5%) say they have ever posted ratings or reviews of doctors. This suggests that people who depend on online ratings may not be getting a reliable picture of a pediatrician’s care. There is no regulation or oversight of online ratings.

 Implications

Currently, doctor rating websites are not perceived as important as other types of information as parents make decisions for their children’s healthcare.  Nevertheless, perceived importance of online ratings appears to differ widely based on factors such as parent age and gender. For mothers and younger parents in general, higher ratings of importance for doctor rating websites may reflect higher levels of access to, or comfort with, online ratings sources that are based on user reviews.

Importantly, there is currently no oversight or regulation for rating websites that collect ‘crowdsourced’ information about doctors. Issues of trust may become important as questions arise about the reliability of the ratings or whether they are subject to manipulation in positive or negative directions. It is worth noting that word of mouth from family and friends is not regulated, either; but those sources of information may be perceived as more directly accountable by parents seeking the information, and therefore more trustworthy.

It remains to be seen how influential doctor rating websites will be, or how parents will navigate among the many choices for ratings websites in the future. Ultimately, the websites that have the greatest impact may be the sources that are perceived as most informative and trustworthy in advising parents in the selection of their children’s healthcare providers. In the meantime, the time-honored grapevine—not to mention, insurance coverage and office location—remain more important to parents.

 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s National Poll on Children’s Health measures public opinions, perceptions and priorities about today’s most important child health issues and trends.