Why Online Physician Reviews and Ratings Matter

March 24, 2020
Review posts on an iphone

Online ratings of physicians aren’t new. When it launched in 2004, Yelp, the largest and most well-known business and service ratings site, began allowing physician reviews. But reviews have gained importance in recent years as more consumers turn to online ratings when choosing a physician or medical group. That’s why it’s important to know your online ratings and address poor reviews quickly. 

Patients can rate physicians through a variety of consumer sites. In addition to Yelp, other popular sites include Healthgrades, and RateMDs. Their review parameters vary. For example, Yelp uses a five-star rating system and encourages comments. Healthgrades asks patients to consider a variety of factors, guiding the review. One aspect they all share is that they give consumers a lot of say in how they rate providers.


The increased importance of physician ratings can be attributed to three trends:

  • Younger patients, including millennials, who are becoming a bigger presence in healthcare are more likely than older patients to turn to social media, crowdsourcing and online consumer reviews when choosing products and services including medical care.
  • The ubiquity of smartphones allows patients to quickly and easily look up reviews and post their own.
  • Increased cost-sharing in the form of deductibles, co-payments and higher premiums means that patients are more likely to shop around for care and demand a better care experience.

About 95% of respondents in a 2018 survey said they find online ratings and reviews of doctors “somewhat” to “very” reliable, and 41% check a physician’s ratings even if a trusted physician referred the provider. Up to 60% of people use web-based physician rating systems when choosing a physician, according to a May 2019 study in the journal Risk Management Healthcare Policy

Even standardized patient surveys are viewed by many in the medical field as flawed but necessary. The Clinical and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, for instance, is used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to calculate reimbursements to providers.


The challenge for physicians is that consumer ratings can be misleading. Research indicates little correlation between a high physician rating and high quality of care. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, for instance, showed no correlation between online ratings of cardiac surgeons in five states and risk-adjusted mortality rates.

That’s because instead of focusing on quality of care and outcomes, physician ratings tend to dwell on customer service, such as wait times and parking availability, in addition to bedside manner, according to research. Oftentimes, consumer ratings skew negative because they come from a small pool of dissatisfied customers.

Physicians can improve and expand the pool of online reviewers to help their ratings by:

  • Asking patients to share their positive experiences online, especially immediately after an appointment. 
  • Using posters and onsite marketing to remind patients to post reviews.
  • Publishing positive reviews on their own websites to encourage sharing—with written patient consent.
  • Conducting their own internal surveys of patients and posting the results on their websites to offer an alternative to consumer rating sites. 
  • Assigning someone to monitor online review sites and social media for rapid responses to negative reviews or comments—answer negative reviews with a respectful response. Facilities must be careful with direct responses to reviews due to patient privacy laws. In December 2019, a Florida physician was ordered to pay $10,000 for posting patient information in a Yelp review.

“Instead of focusing on quality of care and outcomes, physician ratings tend to dwell on customer service, such as wait times and parking availability, in addition to bedside manner.”


Ratings sites are working to provide more context. In 2015, Yelp teamed up with ProPublica, the non-profit investigative news organization, to add more statistics onto the Yelp pages of medical providers. The move was part of a broader Yelp initiative to reduce misleading and false reviews.

With online reviews gaining more importance, a coordinated strategy to address negative reviews and encourage positive ones can help improve a physician’s online reputation. Clinics should be aware of those reputations and work to enhance them.

“As healthcare providers, we should be embracing and helping to improve the reviews so by proxy we are improving our care and gaining patient trust,“ wrote urology physicians from the Washington University School of Medicine in an article on the topic.

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