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Why Are Online Physician Reviews and Ratings Important?

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May 06, 2021

Why Are Online Physician Reviews and Ratings Important?

Tracey Lee Batsford

picture Why Are Online Physician Reviews and Ratings Important?

Online reviews and ratings for physicians are hardly anything new. Founded in 2004, RateMD was the first review site focused exclusively on doctors. Soon, others followed, including and in 2008. Today, there are dozens of review sites, including Google and Facebook, that allow patients to rate the physicians that treat them.

According to EMPATHIQ, a company that specializes in online reputation management (ORM) for healthcare professionals, the “landscape for online physician reviews is highly fragmented.” The company estimates that “as many as 70 online review and ratings sides can affect a physician’s public image.”

What exacerbates this fragmented landscape are commercially driven online review sites as well as government agencies that provide ratings, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS).

In both cases, many sites collect metrics on both clinical and non-clinical aspects of a physician’s care. The issue with this dichotomy is that while government-backed review sites tend to have quantitative and non-biased methods for evaluating physicians, the criteria for commercial sites tend to be all over the map, with substantial quantitative and qualitative data as well as simple star ratings. This can skew a patients’ assessments of physician competencies; after all, a five-star review on Google may mean a two-star review on CMS.

One of the main culprits? Ratings and reviews on commercial sites are not necessarily a measure of quality care. Research has demonstrated that there is not necessarily a link between online ratings of cardiac surgeons and mortality rates. Many physician reviewers tend to focus on customer service, such as wait times, bedside manner, costs and parking availability. Systematic reviews about physician-rating websites offer recommendations on how they can be improved, but for now, any type of standardized approach remains to be seen.

What is perhaps the most shocking is that some studies have shown that patients prefer online reviews from commercial sites rather than government ratings and that they trust these sites as much as doctor recommendations. NRC Health’s research found that over a third of patients say their physicians’ online reputation is very important, which is higher than any other industry (including restaurants, hotels, skilled professionals, etc.). It also found that 83.3% of patients trusted online reviews and ratings more than recommendations from family and friends. Finally, the study found that 74.7% of patients want to see at least seven ratings before opting for one physician over another.

Most doctors understand the importance of online reviews and ratings. Surveys point out that nine out of ten doctors worry about negative online reviews. Nevertheless, only 36% follow up on negative reviews. Many more don’t follow up on reviews—positive or negative.

Growing Importance of Physician Online Reviews and Ratings

There is a perfect storm brewing that will like impact physicians’ online reputation management (ORM) for years to come. There are several key trends that are driving the popularity of online reviews and ratings for doctors.

A New, Tech-Savvy Generation of Patients

Millennials now make up one of the biggest age groups in healthcare. They are the generation that grew up with the Internet’s break-neck evolution, social media, crowdfunding and online reviews. They are more likely than other generations to scout out consumer reviews when searching for a physician.

Technology Makes It Easy for People to Leave Reviews

Gone are the days where people would mail or email a complaint to a physician. In an “always-on” world, smartphones and tablets make it very easy for patients to look up physician reviews and ratings—and quickly leave their own.

The Financial Aspects to Patient Care

Higher premiums, co-payments and insurance deductibles are all aspects that patients consider when looking for a physician. For many, forking out money means that patients expect a better care experience.

Quick Access to Decision-Making Information

Some researchers have found that other factors—other than peer-evaluated ratings—can also affect a patients’ choice. When more information on a physician is available online, including the type of health insurance they accept, clinic location and years of experience, people tend to choose one doctor over another.

The average patient consults 7 ratings before choosing a doctor.

How Can Physicians Improve Their Online Reputation?

Should physicians spend more time improving their online reputation with review and rating sites? The answer is yes. If you can’t tackle it alone, assign someone to monitor social media and sites to remain on top of how you are currently being evaluated online. Here are our top tips for managing online physician reviews and ratings.

Get a Better View of Your Current Online Reputation

Make sure you regularly check out Google, Facebook and the most popular doctor review sites. Create or update your profile with the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. Never hesitate to “sell” yourself: highlight your specialties, certifications, research, memberships, and years of experience.

Respond to Both the Positive and Negative

Positive reviews may be a vanity metric; however, thanking patients for their kudos goes a long way in stoking their long-term loyalty. Unfortunately, negative reviews do happen. A survey conducted by Software Advice indicates that 66% find it is either very or moderately important to have physicians answer negative reviews. In a nutshell, it is better to publicly respond to all reviews, which gives patients the perception that you are an engaged and committed physician who cares about them above and beyond the “treatment.”

Create Your Own Content

Invest in a website, blog, and social media so that you can post high-quality information that may interest patients as well as your own curated reviews. This content will likely rank high in search engine results. You can better establish your know-how and credibility versus an anonymous reviewer on Yelp, for example. Above all, avoid yellow journalism.

Ask for Reviews and Ratings

Sometimes, simply asking for reviews or ratings after patient visits can encourage them to give positive feedback. This strategy also opens the dialogue, prior to any online action, should clients feel as though they need to address an issue with you immediately after an appointment.

Conduct Your Own Surveys

Take matters into your own hands and carry out post-appointment surveys with your patients. The benefits are two-fold. First, you can better control what type of feedback you want to glean from patients. Second, direct feedback can be a competitive alternative to consumer rating sites.

83.3% of patients trust online reviews and ratings more than personal recommendations. 

Benefits of Monitoring Online Physician Review and Rating Sites

Don’t underestimate the power of online reputation management (ORM). These are the benefits of overseeing your physician online reviews and ratings:

  • Develop online credibility
  • Enhance your brand image
  • Increase your patient base and referrals
  • Mitigate negative publicity
  • Foster complete transparency
  • Boost patient engagement and referrals
  • Improve your search rankings
  • Evaluate marketing initiatives
  • Benchmark your practice

Online physician rating sites will continue to gain importance in the upcoming years. While doctors need to focus on patient care, they cannot ignore the pull of reviews to elevate their practices, foster transparency, drive new business and earn patient trust.