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Study: Online doc ratings mostly positive

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Angie’s List physician rating service has been controversial since it started in 2008. But an academic journal article is now telling the docs to relax. Nearly 90 percent of patient comments on sites like Angie’s List are positive.

The article, published in May in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, searched for ratings or reviews of 300 Boston physicians on 33 rating sites, including Angie’s List. The Indianapolis-based company offers health care reviews in all its 125 markets nationwide.

Roughly one in four of the Boston docs were mentioned on any of the sites. And only one in six had a patient write a narrative review of them.

Among those narrative reviews, 89 percent were positive and only 11 percent negative. A 2009 IBJ article also found that comments on physician rating sites were more positive than negative—in spite of fierce criticism of the sites by doctors.

“Despite controversy surrounding these sites, their use by patients has been limited to date, and a majority of reviews appear to be positive,” wrote lead author Dr. Tara Lagu, of the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

Some physicians appeared to be padding their ratings by writing reviews about themselves—or having their staff members write them. One review noted that a female physician was a “faculty member of the Reproductive Endocrinology Unit” and “an associate professor in medicine” at the local medical school. “She not only sees patients but also does research and edits a professional journal,” the review said, “so she is definitely up-to-date on all the latest developments in reproductive endocrinology. Highly recommend her.”

Angie Hicks, chief marketing officer at Angie’s List, said the journal article provides some validation to her company’s health care ratings.

“There’s still an element where consumers like to understand how other patients have reacted,” she said. She added that physicians have grown more comfortable with Angie’s List reviews the longer they’ve been out there.

“A lot of what physicians were against were sites that allow anonymous reporting,” she said. Angie’s List does not publicize reviewers’ names next to their comments, but does keep records of which of its subscribers made which comment—in case a physician challenges the veracity of a reviewer’s comment.

But the journal article also had some criticism for the quality of physician rating sites, saying the search tools are cumbersome, advertising is prevalent and information about physicians is incomplete.

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