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Dermatologists came in second to last, ahead only of psychiatry, in a study of 23 healthcare specialties, based on more than 28,000 online Yelp reviews.
Dermatologists came in second to last, ahead only of psychiatry, in a study of 23 healthcare specialties, based on more than 28,000 online Yelp reviews. Also ranking low in consumer satisfaction: orthopedics and family practice.
Judging by the reviews, American healthcare consumers were most satisfied by their experiences with naturopathy (the most popular), audiology, oncology and osteopathic physicians. Interestingly, tattoo removal (a category in which provider type was not defined) ranked five in popularity among consumers.
Researchers conducting the nationwide study, by public relations and marketing firm Vanguard Communications, developed software that scoured data from Yelp containing all reviews in the nation's 100 largest cities, under the doctor category. The category is defined by Yelp and its users, which is why it contains some oddities, such as tattoo removal, according to Ron Harman King, Vanguard Communications’ CEO.
Researchers then sorted the data by specialist type and averaged the number of rating stars (up to five) for each specialty category.
Higher education = lower ranking
Among the study’s findings: more highly educated providers tended to rank lower.
Dermatologists have average 3.48-star ranking. In general, the study found doctors with M.D.s have an average online rating of 3.80 out of a possible five stars. In contrast, non-M.D. healthcare providers have an average online rating of 4.29 stars.
But a closer look reveals that the rating differences appear to be more related to quality of customer service than to an individual doctor’s education, training and clinical skills.
“Our research to date shows that patients complain online four times as often about a medical practice’s customer service – such as receptionists’ cordiality and doctors' bedside manners – than about a doctor’s ability to heal,” King said.
Two challenges for patient satisfaction
In terms of patient satisfaction, dermatologists have two challenges, according to King.
First: it's not unusual for derm providers (physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) to see two to three dozen patients each business day.
“That tends to create crowded waiting rooms and added patient frustration …,” he said. “In contrast, in the more self-pay specialties of reproductive endocrinology (IVF doctors) and plastic surgery, the physicians routinely allot an hour for each new-patient consult and not that much less for other appointments. To be sure, the economies of dermatology dictate a higher patient volume, leading somewhat unavoidably toward greater patient dissatisfaction.”
High patient volumes make customer service all the more critical. “When a physician or PA falls behind schedule, how is the office staff trained to communicate with waiting patients? The answer to that question plays a larger role in the effect on online reviews in dermatology than other disciplines,” King said.
Second: dermatology is a unique discipline in that all ailments are present on the body's exterior and are frequently visible to the patient, according to King.
“As a result, our observation is that vanity tends to create greater patient impatience in this specialty than average. Patients want their rashes, acne and lesions to go away very quickly, whereas, a patient [who has] a cold, a sprained ankle or [is in] need of gallbladder surgery may be more tolerant of the time required for treatment and recovery,” he said.
While researchers in this study did not analyze reviewer comments, King said the second challenge could lead to more complaints.
“…anecdotally and in other research, we tend to see a higher-than-average rate of complaints in online reviews about dermatological outcomes, [such as,] dermatology patients seem more critical of their providers' clinical skills, particularly those presenting with acne problems,” King said. “You might expect providers in dermatology and cosmetic surgery to be especially vulnerable to patient vanity. However, in our study, cosmetic surgeons fared comparatively better, with an average patient rating of 3.99 stars (ranked eleventh of 23 specialties).”
Why pay attention?
“Sheer arithmetic alone makes Yelp.com hard to ignore,” King said.
According to Yelp’s investor relations web page1 about 135 million unique visitors used Yelp’s website, and approximately 72 million unique visitors visited Yelp via their mobile devices, on a monthly average basis, during the quarter ended December 31, 2014.
In general, rate-your-doctor websites are having a growing impact on healthcare choices, according to King.
“An estimated 70 million Americans look for new doctors every year, and, according to the Pew Research Center, 87% of U.S. adults use the Internet, and 72% of those say they looked online for health information within the last year,” King said. “Bottom line, Americans regularly use Yelp and similar websites for healthcare decisions, just as they use it for hotel, restaurant and retail purchase decisions.”
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