Do Online Ratings of Doctors Matter?

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Living in a consumer culture means that we can post and read online reviews of nearly every available product and service. Health care is no exception. But do we know whether online doctor reviews are useful? 

A study published in the December 2014 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine examined whether the quality of medical care provided by doctors was correlated with their online ratings. The question is worthwhile investigating because if the answer is yes, then patients could feel more confident in using online reviews as a source of information about doctors.


There is no universally accepted method of measuring the quality of a doctor's medical care. For this study, the authors estimated the quality of care provided by 1,299 physicians by evaluating information generated when they completed professional educational modules. They focused on American Board of Internal Medicine practice improvement modules for hypertension or diabetes. The information included patient survey responses and data drawn from approximately 25 medical records. This means that the clinical measures of quality of care was derived from how they assessed and treated a relatively small number of patients with hypertension or diabetes.

The authors used Google to search for the physicians' online ratings, focusing on eight "free publicly available leading health-based websites" such as Healthgrades, Vitals, and UCompareHealthCare. Ratings were found for 61.0% of physicians, with an average of 5.6 patient ratings per physician.


Results showed that there was no consistent relationship between online ratings and the clinical measures of quality of care, such as control of high blood pressure or high cholesterol. 

There was a positive relationship between online ratings and patient survey responses for satisfaction with overall care and support for self-care.

In other words, doctors with higher online ratings also had higher ratings for those two processes among their patients. However, the correlation was weak. 

The authors acknowledge that their study was limited by at least three issues:

  1. On average, there were fewer than 6 online ratings per physician. Compare that figure to hundreds or thousands of ratings for a book on Amazon.
  2. Patients who submit online ratings of their doctors are likely not representative of all patients treated by the doctor. Maybe the online raters were on the extreme ends of the spectrum -- either very disgruntled or overly elated with their care experience.
  3. The method of measuring quality of care was not at all comprehensive, focusing only on a few medical charts and surveys.

Overall, this study did not find clear evidence that online reviews are an accurate way of predicting the quality of care you might expect to receive from a doctor. The usefulness of online doctor ratings may improve if more (a lot more) patients reviewed each doctor.

Until then, the old fashioned way -- asking your friends and family members for a recommendation -- might still be the best way to find a good doctor or avoid a bad one.

[Mention of a commercial product or service does not constitute an endorsement.]


Gray BM et al. Website Ratings of Physicians and Their Quality of Care. JAMA Intern Med 2014 Dec 1. [Epub ahead of print]. Accessed on December 31, 2014.

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