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"Good bedside manner" leads to better online ratings for MDs: study

A new study involving Ontario urologists has determined that a good bedside manner tends to result in better online reviews from patients.

The analysis by Queen's University researchers involved an assessment of 3,288 online ratings for 224 urologists - 75% of the provincial total in that specialty - that had been posted on the popular RateMDs.com website.

The study's lead author, Dr. Michael Leveridge, said that even though many physicians are skeptical about the value of the online reviews, they reflect "one window into patients' minds that should not be ignored."

Online patient-rating sites have become popular worldwide, despite heavy criticism from some physicians. (In 2007, the CMA and Canadian Medical Protective Association sent letters to the site warning against the publication of defamatory comments about doctors, and some comments were removed as a result.)

Leveridge, an assistant professor of urology and oncology at Queen's, and medical student Sarah Ferrara presented their results at the annual meeting of the Canadian Urological Association.

Using an anonymized database, they assessed patients' comments and the resulting ratings received by the urologists. They found they had a mean score of 3.96 out of 5, with 67.4% rated 4 or higher.

Comments about good bedside manner were associated with higher ratings (mean 4.74 vs. 3.91, p < 0.001), while those about poor bedside manner produced lower ratings (mean 2.45 vs. 4.01, p < 0.001).

Patients who referred to surgery, a cancer diagnosis or good bedside manner rated their urologist highly, while longer comments, all-caps comments or the mention of a poor bedside manner were associated with lower ratings.

"It's heartening to see overall high opinions of Ontario urologists," said Leveridge. "Anecdotally, little trust is placed in these ratings by doctors due the 'acquisition bias' resulting from the fact that patients must be both self-directed and motivated enough to log on and complete the rating, which may self-select for extremes of emotion and opinion."

However, he concluded that because patient opinion, patient-reported outcomes and patient-centred care are "fundamental to modern medicine, these sites should... not be ignored."

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