woman at computerMore than one-quarter of parents have used online physician-rating sites to choose a pediatrician for their children, according to a new national study.

The findings — based on responses from more than 1,600 parents — further suggest that negative online ratings may dissuade parents from choosing a pediatrician, even if that doctor has been recommended by a neighbor.

Conversely, a positive online rating may sway parents to choose that doctor, according to the study.

Whether these online ratings accurately reflect a doctor’s skills and performance is another issue. Reliability of the ratings is a primary concern for Dr. David Dunkin, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

He noted, for example, that although positive comments can help attract new patients, “to make them reliable there must be a critical number of reviews.”

Dunkin also pointed out that many ratings sites are essentially one-way conversations, in which physicians lack any opportunity to comment or offer context. This runs the risk of treating the doctor-patient relationship “like a service, like going to a hotel or restaurant,” he said.

“But ideally,” he added, “the physician-patient relationship is a partnership or team — one that is based on trust, respect for each other, and good communication that results in shared decision-making.”

This article was reprinted.