"Anonymous online opinions of physicians should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient's sole source of information when looking for a new physician," AMA President Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven said in a statement.
Hanauer questioned whether doctors should be subject to "crowdsourced" reviews like other commodities. He said doctors risk getting bad reviews for sound medical advice simply because patients don't agree with it. For example, even though antibiotics only fight bacteria, parents often want pediatricians to prescribe them for kids' colds or other viruses. Doctors' refusals might result in a bad review, but that would be misleading, he said.
Roberta Clarke, a specialist in health-care marketing at Boston University, said there's no reason that doctors shouldn't be the focus of consumer reviews, but that online sites need to do a better job of providing meaningful information.
There are no standards, some sites charge a fee to look at doctor reviews, and sites that use stars or checkmarks don't always explain what's being rated, Clarke said.
Oliver Kharraz, founder of ZocDoc.com said his New York-based site avoids the pitfalls of many by offering more than just reviews. Patients can schedule appointments on the site with doctors who pay to be listed, and only patients who make appointments are allowed to give reviews. Patients also get suggested topics for review including bedside manner and waiting times.
"The review needs to be done right in order for it to make sense," he said.
Lori Goldstein, a beauty salon owner in Chicago's suburbs, said she has used online ratings sites to help find doctors for her mother and herself, and has written bad online reviews for her father's doctors because she thinks they give him too many prescriptions.
"I wanted to warn people," she said.
But Goldstein said consumers have to be smart about using online doctor reviews.
"You have to be careful because you can't believe everything," she said.