Most Online Patient Reviews Rate Doctors Highly. Really.

In a world increasingly dominated by social media, doctors are becoming more concerned about managing their online reputations. Some doctors have even resorted to making their patients sign a gag order before treatment. Despite all the controversy, medical professionals need not fear online reviews: sites like Yahoo! Local and Insider Pages show that the majority of patients rate their doctors 5 out of 5.

At DocSpot, we help patients search across hundreds of different websites to find a doctor who meets their individual needs (for example if they need a primary care doctor who specializes in managing diabetes, or an experienced psychiatrist who accepts Aetna).

Occasionally, we’ll get providers writing in to have their profiles hidden from public view solely because they never want to be rated. Their concerns piqued our curiosity about the review ecosystem, prompting us to ask, “Are online reviews really that negative?” After analyzing about a quarter million reviews, we found that, despite their bad rap, the majority of online patient reviews are favorable towards their doctors. You can see the detailed results in this infographic. Below are some of the most interesting highlights.

Sixty-five percent of the reviews that we analyzed gave the health care professional the highest rating possible, and 3 out of 4 reviews rated the doctor positively (either a 4 or 5 on a 5 point scale). This finding is surprising since the common wisdom is that only the truly irate bother to fill out online reviews, followed by the sliver of ecstatically pleased customers.

Rather than asking patients to sign a gag order, perhaps doctors should be asking their patients to fill out online reviews — chances are, they’ll get top marks.

Our analysis delved further into the content of the reviews. It turns out that it’s not all about the medical outcomes: the physician’s staff and the office each warranted a mention in over 20% of the reviews. Unsurprisingly, people commonly complained about rudeness, billing hassles, and long wait times. Regardless of how much people value medical expertise, customer service is still important.

By examining recurring phrases in the reviews and correlating the data with specialties, we were able to make some other interesting observations. Cardiologists, for example, were repeatedly credited for saving their patients’ lives and oncologists were frequently described as compassionate. Chiropractors, for all the flak that they get from physicians, received the highest average rating (4.61 out of 5) of all health care specialists, while endocrinologists got the lowest rating (a mildly positive 3.56 out of 5 — maybe the patients didn’t like to be repeatedly told to modify their diets).

Despite the glacial pace at which the health care industry can seem to adopt technology (are we really just now talking about cloud-based electronic health records?), online patient reviews are a mainstay of how patients select which doctors to go to — one out of four Americans turn to the internet for physician quality information. While online reviews can either be positive or negative for any individual doctor, our analysis shows that most online patient reviews are favorable. A health care provider’s business is likely to benefit from cultivating patient reviews rather than ignoring or suppressing them (the equivalent of hiding one’s head in the sand and hoping for the best).

Footnote: Yes, there have been other studies showing that online reviews tend to be positive. Here’s one that examined 4,999 reviews, and here’s another that examined 190 reviews. We wanted a broader survey that considered how reviews differed across specialties, so we analyzed 248,978 reviews.

Jerry Lin is the founder of DocSpot, a company which strives to provide a comprehensive online provider directory where patients can easily look for doctors that suit their individual needs, and where providers can ensure that the right patients find them.

16 replies »

  1. I must say that I agree strongly with the premise of the article. However, we are nothing some variation. It seems that people that go the extra-mile to write a review are either very positive or very negative. The link below is from http://drsocial.org, a doctor reviews and ratings website, which also allows people to ask medical doctors questions free and anonymously. Thanks to our intricate legal disclaimer and prudent manner of sharing medical information, we continue to avoid legal concerns.
    There are five highlighted doctor reviews, dermatologists, pediatricians, and anesthesiologists.

    Kind regards,
    Brett Snodgrass, MD

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  7. Hello Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. We certainly agree that when selecting a physician, one should consider more than just online patient reviews; that belief has shaped a lot of how we built the service.

    You cited: “Less than 5% of people have ‘rated’ their physician online. Calls into question quality of online data and any conclusions drawn from such a small sample .”

    Yet people frequently draw conclusions from much smaller samplings. Polling organizations like Gallup, for example, might only survey a few thousand individuals before making claims about national sentiment.

    Also, consider that it’s likely that a pretty small percentage of the general population left reviews on sites like Amazon.com or Yelp. Despite that, people find such reviews helpful when making purchasing decisions.

    We’re not saying that patients should look exclusively at reviews when selecting a physician. Rather, we’re saying that instead of expending effort into suppressing online reviews, physicians who offer a good service and who want to build their practices should encourage their patients to leave reviews. This habit is likely to set them apart from the ones who don’t have online reviews.

    You also mentioned that “Among those who never sought online reviews about doctors, 43% said they didn’t trust the information.”

    While 43% might seem like a large percentage, it’s important to know the size of the denominator: what percentage of people have never sought online reviews? When we talk to patients about doctor directories, they frequently ask about reviews first.

    That some patients don’t trust online reviews raises a good point that different people look for different qualities when selecting a physician. Some people care a lot about what other patients say, while some other people care much more about where that physician trained. Still other people will care about whether a physician offers conveniences such as secure messaging. We at DocSpot don’t make a judgement as to how people should choose their doctors — we want to enable people to find doctors according to the criteria that are important to them. If you have other ideas on how to select physicians according to publicly available data, please let us know.


  8. Thanks for the encouragement! It is very important to us that people can find doctors based off of individualized criteria — we’ve spent a lot of time trying to support that 🙂

  9. Amazing infographic. I’m a HUGE fan of DocSpot — the website sure does make finding the right physician based on criteria important to ME easier!

  10. Great points! It doesn’t really matter what the statistics say about a small sampling of people polled, either way frankly.

    If a doctor can develop an additional cost-effective & sustainable method in which to acquire new patients, why wouldn’t they?

    Online review management, reputation monitoring, or whatever you want to call it – is just a part of the equation.

    An essential part of the 360 degree new patient acquisition & existing patient retention digital health conversation, but only one cog in the overall system that technology, social connectivity, and mobile access have made possible.

    There are potential downfalls and Murphy moments is every marketing method but with regard to online reviews over gag orders, a good offense seems to be the best defense…

  11. The key takeaway here …

    ” Rather than asking patients to sign a gag order, perhaps doctors should be asking their patients to fill out online reviews — chances are, they’ll get top marks. ”

    This is EXACTLY what my physician friends who are doing well with their ratings are doing .. Great advice.

  12. A recent article on Modern Physician provides some interesting “perspective” on the online reviews of doctor.”

    Here’s a sampling:

    Less than 5% of people have “rated” their physician online. Calls into question quality of online data and any conclusions drawn from such a small sample .

    Among those who had posted reviews, 54% reported giving positive reviews, while 19% said they posted negative reviews.

    Of those who reported finding online reviews useful, 30% said they chose a doctor based on positive reviews, while 30% said they avoided a physician based on their negative reviews.

    Among those who never sought online reviews about doctors, 43% said they didn’t trust the information. Also, 26% of respondents said they were concerned about a doctor taking action against them if they left a negative review.

    Read more: Web ratings aren’t key in choosing doc: study – Modern Physician http://www.modernphysician.com/article/20130220/MODERNPHYSICIAN/302209975#ixzz2Ms80OS68

    Read more: Web ratings aren’t key in choosing doc: study – Modern Physician http://www.modernphysician.com/article/20130220/MODERNPHYSICIAN/302209975#ixzz2Ms7gY4za