Consumer decision-making based on review websites: Are there differences between choosing a hotel and choosing a physician?

Fabia Rothenfluh, Evi Germeni, Peter J. Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background: Web users are increasingly encouraged to rate and review consumer services (eg, hotels, restaurants) and, more recently, this is also the case for physicians and medical services. The resemblance in the setup and design of commercial rating websites (CRWs) and Web-based physician rating websites (PRWs) raises the question of whether choice-making processes based on the two types of websites could also be similar. Objective: This qualitative study sought to explore the extent to which consumer decision making based on Web-based reviews is the same for consumer services (ie, choice of a hotel) and health services (ie, choice of a pediatrician), while providing an in-depth understanding of potential differences or similarities. Methods: Between June and August 2015, we carried out a total of 22 qualitative interviews with young parents residing in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Participants were invited to complete 2 choice tasks, which involved (1) choosing a hotel based on the commercial Web-based rating website TripAdvisor and (2) selecting a pediatrician based on the PRW Jameda. To better understand consumers' thought processes, we instructed participants to "think aloud", namely to verbalize their thinking while sorting through information and reaching decisions. Using a semistructured interview guide, we subsequently posed open-ended questions to allow them to elaborate more on factors influencing their decision making, level of confidence in their final choice, and perceived differences and similarities in their search for a hotel and a physician. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using an inductive thematic approach. Results: Participants spent on average 9:57 minutes (standard deviation=9:22, minimum=3:46, maximum=22:25) searching for a hotel and 6:17 minutes (standard deviation=4:47, minimum=00:38, maximum=19:25) searching for a pediatrician. Although the choice of a pediatrician was perceived as more important than the choice of a hotel, participants found choosing a physician much easier than selecting an appropriate accommodation. Four main themes emerged from the analysis of our interview data that can explain the differences in search time and choice confidence: (1) trial and error, (2) trust, (3) competence assessment, and (4) affect and likeability. Conclusions: Our results suggest that, despite congruent website designs, individuals only trust review information to choose a hotel, but refuse to fully rely on it for selecting a physician. The design and content of Web-based PRWs need to be adjusted to better address the differing information needs of health consumers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere129
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Electronic word of mouth
  • Health care provider
  • Health care quality assessment
  • Patient satisfaction
  • Physician choice
  • Physician rating website
  • Qualitative research


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