Looking for Dr. Right? Check Yelp

online rating, rating, five stars, review
(Image credit: pichetw/Shutterstock)

People scour online reviews to find the best restaurant or bar — and new research suggests that people are increasingly turning to online reviews to find the best doctors, too.

But unlike restaurants, which are rated on factors such as food and service, what separates a five-star physician review from a one-star panning?

In a new small study, published Jan. 26 in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, researchers examined what factors influenced how patients rated their doctors on Yelp. To do so, they analyzed Yelp reviews posted in May 2014 for dermatologists, general plastic surgeons and facial plastic surgeons in five cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago. [10 Technologies That Will Transform Your Life]

From a total of 200 reviews, the researchers analyzed 264 separate comments — for example, if a review mentioned bedside manner and ease of scheduling, the researchers identified this as two comments.

Bedside manner was the most common factor noted in both five-star and one-star reviews, according to the study: 26 percent of the five-star reviews and 23 percent of the one-star reviews mentioned the doctor's bedside manner.

Factors such as the doctor's knowledge accounted for 22 percent of the five-star comments, and satisfaction with the results accounted for 17 percent, the researchers found.

In the realm of one-star reviews, comments about the doctor's honesty or the patient's perception of being pressured into procedures were the second-most common, accounting for 25 percent of the comments, according to the study.

The study authors, led by Dr. Nima Shemirani, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California, noted that online reviews can be an important source of feedback for both doctors and staff members.

Indeed, online reviews could be particularly valuable, given that the percentage of patients using online reviews to find physicians jumped from 25 percent in 2013 to 42 percent in 2014, the researchers wrote in the study.

Writing in an unrelated editorial, published Jan. 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Vivian Lee, the dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, said that while there have been reports of doctors not responding well to negative online reviews, transparent patient reviews and online feedback can serve three important goals. [Top 10 Disruptive Technologies]

First, reviews of doctors or hospitals "can help patients make more informed consumer decisions," Lee wrote in the editorial.

Second, the reviews offer doctors "valuable performance feedback for learning and improving," Lee wrote. However, the onus is on the physicians to be receptive to the feedback, she added.

Finally, publically available reviews "foster a spirt of trust with patients and the community," according to the editorial. "Patient reviews offer the opportunity to improve health care delivery while strengthening the provider-patient relationship," Lee wrote.

While such feedback can be beneficial for doctors, is Yelp the best platform for it?

Lee noted that Yelp and other doctor-review websites, such as RateMDs and Healthgrades, may fall short because anyone can post a negative review — for example, people who are not patients but simply do not like the doctor. In addition, Yelp reviews may not offer advice that can be acted on, Lee wrote.

Some health care providers are beginning to employ patient-feedback systems on their websites that are similar to Yelp, according to the editorial.

For example, University of Utah Health Care, where Lee works, started using a patient-feedback system in 2012, according to the editorial. And it appears to be working: Nearly a half of doctors who received at least 30 reviews per year scored in the top 10 percent of patient satisfaction nationally, and a quarter of the doctors scored in the top 1 percent, Lee wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.