What Do 5 Star Reviews For Doctors Really Mean?

It's all about getting 5 star reviews these days.

Physician ratings sites make most doctors cringe. In a profession where accuracy and accountability are paramount, it’s easy to understand why the idea of being rated by a third party online can be concerning. And there are a lot of third parties that are rating doctors these days.

Most doctors don't even know how many online rating sites are out there, recording rankings and reviews from happy and angry patients alike. We looked into the most visited sites patients turn to for doctor reviews, and found the following table in this study.[3]

Find which sites hold the most sway over a doc's reputation by tracking their stats.

Many of these sites use a 1 to 5 star ranking system and allow a patient to type in a brief review explaining the reasoning behind their ranking.

Find out what kind of info can be found about you and your practice on the most popular online physician ranking sites.

Doctors everywhere are hunting for 5 star reviews to prop up their online rankings, but what does a 5 star review really mean? Research suggests that the things that matter most to patients includes [1]:

-       Coordination of care
-       Office Staff & Environment
-       Access to their physician
-       Technical competence
-       Personality traits such as caring and empathy

How many people are looking at these sites? A research letter published in JAMA on February of 2014 entitled, “Public Awareness, Perception, and Use of Online Physician Rating Sites” analyzed an Internet survey of over 2,000 adults and found that only 63% of people were aware of physician ratings sites. Of this number, only 25% had actually visited an online rating site for finding a primary care physician, and only 5% had ever rated a doctor online.

Of those who had visited an online rating site in the study, around 35% had chosen a physician based on good ratings while 37% had avoided a doctor with poor ratings.[2] Interestingly, 43% of those who had never visited an online ratings site did so out of lack of trust of the information published about physicians.[2] The most important reasons for choosing a primary doctor were personal references from family and friends and whether the physician accepted a patient’s insurance.

Of research suggests only 25-37% of patients seek online review sites for choosing a physician, does this mean that the furor surrounding online review sites is overblown? [2-5] Well, yes and no. The numbers say that the majority of your potential patients will never see that overtly salty review left by that one disgruntled patient. However, it's quite obvious that online reviews have already started to affect perceptions of doctors (especially in urban areas where online review sites are more popular).

The takeaway is not to panic or ignore the effect of online review sites for doctors. A healthy dose of perspective is needed when taking one's online reputation into consideration. They do have an effect, and while that effect can be overblown sometimes, it's still important to consider when you're thinking about how to attract new patients.


1. Detz A, López A, Sarkar U. Long-Term Doctor-Patient Relationships: Patient Perspective From Online Reviews. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2013;15(7):e131. doi:10.2196/jmir.2552. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23819959.

2. Hanauer DA, Zheng K, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Davis MM. Public Awareness, Perception, and Use of Online Physician Rating Sites. JAMA. 2014;311(7):734. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.283194. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1829975.

3. Kadry B, Chu LF, Kadry B, Gammas D, Macario A. Analysis of 4999 Online Physician Ratings Indicates That Most Patients Give Physicians a Favorable Rating. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2011;13(4):e95. doi:10.2196/jmir.1960. http://www.jmir.org/2011/4/e95/.

4. Keckley PH. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. 2011. [2011-10-02]. webcite 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers in the United States: Key Findings, Strategic Implications. http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/US_CHS_2011ConsumerSurveyinUS_062111.pdf. [Ref list]

5. Fox S, Purcell K. Chronic disease and the Internet. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project; 2010. Mar 24, [2011-1003]. http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media/Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Chronic_Disease.pdf.





About the Author

Dr. Molly is passionate about using technology to improve the lives of patients and healthcare providers. She graduated from the University of Illinois College of...

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Enter your email address to receive "Go Practice" as an email newsletter.

2021 Independent
practice report

Their Insights Might Surprise You.