Online review sites might help you choose a hotel, restaurant or contractor—but doctor-review websites such as Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals or Zocdocs aren’t likely to help you find a good doctor. Here’s why…

They don’t reflect scientifically valid patient reviews. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that physicians with negative online reviews were no more likely to have negative scores on patient-­satisfaction surveys than their colleagues.

They don’t reflect physician quality. A study published in Journal of Medical Internet Research compared online physician ratings with postsurgical mortality rates for cardiac surgeons. Result: No correlation. Indeed, some surgeons with high online ratings had high mortality rates, too.

How do these sites leave inaccurate impressions? One factor is that what patients like isn’t always best for them.

Example: A doctor who is quick to prescribe antibiotics may have patients who feel satisfied and listened to. They’ll write favorable reviews, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they got good care. And negative reviews very often cite such things as communication with the front desk, appointment access, waiting time, billing, even parking—not physician quality. These things matter, too, but if you want to find someone who is good at being a doctor, there are better ways…

  • Take the old-fashioned route. Ask friends and neighbors in your ­community.
  • Ask the same of health professionals you know—your current physicians and their nurses/assistants…your physical therapist and your pharmacist.
  • Network among people with similar health concerns. Example: If you have multiple sclerosis, ask for doctor recommendations on message boards at the website for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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