About two-thirds of the general U.S. population is aware of online physician rating sites, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

David A. Hanauer, M.D., from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of the adult U.S. population about their knowledge and use of online ratings for selecting a physician for themselves.

The researchers found that, of the 2,137 respondents (52 percent women; 68 percent white; 26 percent ≥60 years), 59 percent reported physician rating sites to be “somewhat important” or “very important” when choosing a physician. However, rating sites were endorsed less frequently than other factors, including word of mouth. Most frequently, whether or not a physician accepted one’s health insurance was rated “very important” (89 percent; P < 0.001 versus all other options).

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Compared to other consumer goods (87 percent) and non-health care service providers (71 percent; P < 0.001 versus all other options), awareness of online physician ratings was lower (65 percent) was lower. Among those who utilized online physician ratings in the past year, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37 percent avoided a physician with bad ratings.

“Rating sites that treat reviews of physicians like reviews of movies or mechanics may be useful to the public but the implications should be considered because the stakes are higher,” the authors conclude.