Problem #1: You don't know the source of the review

After analyzing almost 5,000 individual online ratings found on the ten most popular rating sites, researchers at Stanford University found that most online physician reviews are positive. Keep in mind, however, that a review you read online could be written by anyone, and no single review, positive or negative, can be trusted if you don't know who wrote it or the circumstances that led to the reviewer's rating.

Problem #2: You don't know if the reviews truly reflect the quality of care

Several studies have been performed to try to assess the nature and validity of online physician ratings. While many doctors are listed on rating sites, these studies have found that most have very few actual ratings. Generally, the more reviews listed, the more statistical power and relevance they are likely to hold. Overall, researchers find that it is still unclear whether or not online ratings actually reflect quality of care. A study of one of the more popular rating sites, performed by researchers from University of Maryland, University of Minnesota, and Harvard University, and published in 2010, found that variations in ratings had more to do with concerns about office wait time and staff courtesy than with actual patient care.

Problem #3: There's no consistency across the review sites

Patients have various rating options on different sites, ranging from waiting time and ease of making an appointment to the physician's level of expertise and ability to communicate important health information. Different sites also offer different information about the physician, such as years in practice, medical school attended, languages spoken and board certification.

Among the most popular physician review sites are RateMDs, Healthgrades, and AngiesList.

  • RateMDs is free and includes not only medical doctors but also dentists, chiropractors, midwives and other health care professionals.
  • In addition to patient reviews, the free-access site HealthGrades gives special recognition to doctors who are board-certified in their specialty area, have never had their licenses restricted or revoked, and have never had any malpractice claims or state or federal action filed against them. Ratings can also be found for dentists and hospitals.
  • AngiesList is accessible with paid membership at various pricing levels, and extends beyond physician reviews to include reviews of other health care professionals as well as fitness centers, salons, home contractors, auto repair shops and other services. Membership includes a monthly magazine and a problem resolution service.

Other websites that contain patient ratings include RevolutionHealth, Kudzu, ZocDoc, Vitals, YP, and Yelp. While physicians may monitor these sites, and particularly their own ratings, they do not control the content, and not all sites give the physician equal time to respond to comments made.

Problem #4: Review sites are not well-used and user friendly...yet

In her studies of medical review sites, Tara Lagu, MD, MPH, a research scientist at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, finds that patients' use of these sites in the United States is limited but growing. Some of the reasons why these site are not used more often, she feels, is because there are too many of them, and many are not user-friendly. Ultimately, Dr. Lagu adds, either some sites will emerge as leading resources, or what we may need is one centralized site run by the government or a large insurer that will rise to become the nation's most reliable "go-to" source of healthcare information, referrals, and choices.

Tara Lagu, MD, MPH, reviewed this article


Gao, GG. et al. "A Changing Landscape of Physician Quality Reporting: Analysis of Patients' Online Rating of Their Physicians over a 5-Year Period." Journalmedical Internet Researcy. Feb 24 2012; 14(1):e38 Web Nov 2012

Kadry, B. et al. "Analysis of 4999 Online Physician Ratings Indicates That Most Patients Give Physicians a Favorable Rating."  Journal of Medical Internet Research Nov 2011; 13(4):e95 Web Nov 2012

Lagu, T. et al. "Patient's Evaluation of Health Care Providers in the Era of Social Networking: An Analysis of Physician-Rating Websites." Journal of General Internal Medicine Sep 2010; 25(9): 942-946 Web Nov 2012

Mostaghimi, A.  et al. "The Availability and Nature of Physician Information on the Internet." Journal of General Internal Medicine Nov 2010; 25(11):1152-6 Web Nov 2012