Doctor ratings: The first vote grows more important

Many physicians continue to be fearful of online rating sites, despite evidence that they don’t have anything to worry about.

Multiple studies, including one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine (saying that 88% of physician reviews were positive), to a more recent one from the Journal of Urology (86% positive), say that the majority of physician ratings are better than most doctors would think.

Reconcile these findings with the recent study that shows that online ratings in general are influenced by the so-called herd effect.

From the journal, Science, researchers found that a person was 32% more likely to give a news story an up vote on an aggregated news site if it already had a positive rating. In other words,

… a positive nudge, [the researchers] said, can set off a bandwagon of approval.

“Hype can work,” said Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and feed on itself as well.”

If people tend to herd together on popular opinions, that could call into question the reliability of ‘wisdom of the crowd’ ratings on Web sites like Yelp or Amazon and perhaps provide marketers with hints on how to bring positive attention to their products.

Let’s put aside whether online ratings can accurately ascertain the quality of the doctor, or not.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter: they’re here to stay.  44% of patients online search the web to research their doctor, and a growing number will be influenced by the ratings that pop up when a doctor is Googled.

Now that we know the power of the herd mentality, the first rating on a physician review site grows more important.

Physicians should ask all their patients to rate them online.  The aforementioned studies suggest that most of these ratings will be favorable.  And once doctors get their first positive rating, we now know it holds sway over future ones as well.

Doctor ratings: The first vote grows more importantKevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is on the editorial board of contributors, USA Today, and is founder and editor,, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Dike Drummond MD

    Great post Kevin … now let’s get granular and give an example of HOW you might ask a patient to post a positive reviewl

    When you have a positive interaction with a patient – you liked them, they liked you and they had good service and and a good outcome – you can ask them.

    “What did you enjoy about our visit today?” (and listen carefully)

    Then give them a handout with instructions on how to post their review on a couple of different physician review sites ask them,

    “Would you do me a favor and post what you just said to me on one of these physician ratings sites … so the people in (Your Town) who are looking for the kind of care you just received on the internet can find us? Thanks so much?”

    All you need is the handout showing them how and the willingness to ask a couple people a day to do this for you … regularly.

    Dike Drummond MD

    • Guest

      If my doctor wants me to spend my free time writing advertising copy for him, he can darn well pay me for it. I resent being handed forms such as you describe. My doctor makes enough money off me, if he wants to co-opt me as part of his Astro-Turf “Bump Up My Ratings” Army, he can forget it.

      • Suzi Q 38

        I wouldn’t mind giving an evaluation, but I would not post about the doctor until I had gone to him/her a few times.
        The first visit does not always give the full “picture” of how good or bad a physician is.

      • Guest

        I assure you your physician is not getting rich off of you, and if you think so little of him then it’s better that you don’t review him.

        As a patient would you not appreciate the feedback of other patients? I know I would. I have posted positive feedback for physicians I like/respect and negative feedback for physicians I think are atrocious.

        There is a surgeon I work with that we who work with call “the butcher.” I googled him the other day. For as many patients who hate him there are an equal number who absolutely love him and have reviewed him favorably. Wouldn’t you like to know to avoid him?

        • openyourmind

          My plumber and my electrician aren’t getting rich off me either – same thing – providing a service. If I want to write a review, I will. Keep your handout.

          • Guest

            As you feel physicians are service providers why would an intelligent physician not try to market him or herself by encouraging clients to post positive online reviews? Would you criticize your plumber or electrician for giving you a handout and requesting you post a positive online review? Of course not.
            You doctor bashing shtick grows old.

          • querywoman

            Plumbers and electricians usually don’t solicit that kind of stuff!
            If I have an exceptionally good wait person in a restaurant, I tip well and then tell the manager. Much appreciated!
            Doctors who treat me right get wonderful glowing reviews with real descriptions of why they are so great!
            I spend enough time griping that I balance it out with positive statements!

          • Peta

            I belong to Angie’s List, and the reviews there are how I find a lot of tradespeople. I don’t think it’s very easily “gamed”, since you have to pay a membership fee to read & write reviews and although you can use a pseudonym online, they have your real name and details on file. I’ve never thought of reviewing my doctor, because to be honest he’s only average anyway, but I did give our vet a glowing review over the weekend :)

            I think I’d feel odd if someone ASKED me to write a review for them though – that seems a little too “needy” to me. No professional should go around begging for praise, that’s just embarrassing.

          • Guest

            The guys that fixed my ipad screen (3rd party) asked me to post on yelp about them. I did. If my doc asked me that I would. I know how much online information is utilized in this day and age and I wouldn’t find anything odd about it. If you would, so be it.

            People here compare their docs to manual laborers yet when it comes to evaluating them online docs are held to a different standard. I don’t get it.

          • Guest

            Your anger is palpable. I feel for you. Not all doctors are evil, but if posting here makes you feel better go for it. It’s cheaper than therapy (though as someone else pointed out not nearly as effective).

    • Richard Willner


      This is an excellent idea. I encourage every doctor to work on getting positive reviews on the 100+ physician review sites. The satisfied patients will normally not post but the ones who have had even trivial issues with the practice will.

      Richard Willner
      The Center for Peer Review Justice

  • Suzi Q 38

    How reliable are the reviews anyway? Unless it is on Yelp, the reviews are on a scale of 1-5 stars. ANYONE can post, even the physicians mother, sister, wife, and brother…friends. This can change the “tide” easily. Yelp is decent because, along with the star rating, you have actual people talking about their good and bad experiences with certain doctors and hospitals.

    • rbthe4th2

      I saw the online reviews for a doc who I had who was … something else … and he had family members posting good reviews.

      • Suzi Q 38

        I suspected as much.
        Thanks for the information.

        • rbthe4th2

          He told me once that he treated me like he would treat his family. This after I had been months in pain from gallbladder disease. I told a friend of mine that and she said I’m glad I’m not part of his family.
          Oh well …

          • Suzi Q 38

            Your feelings are understandable.
            Just warn others.

          • rbthe4th2

            Thanks. Just wishing I could say more for the good docs. I did send a few cards, and have talked to a couple of admins that let me tell them of the good experiences.

          • Suzi Q 38

            Yes, I think what you do is fair.
            It is nice to compliment the good doctors.

  • T.M.

    “online ratings in general are influenced by the so-called herd effect.”

    …so now that patients are aware that online ratings are given by unthinking lemmings, maybe they’ll take that into consideration when deciding how much weight to give them.

    What works for bringing cute LOLcat .gifs to the top at Reddit may or may not be the best way to choose your next medical provider.

  • querywoman

    i could make up my own reviews and post them. I googled my tather’s name umpteen times so his memorial would be at the top of a google search for his name. It worked!
    A lot of these postings have a ring of truth. They tell some bizarre stories that just couldn’t be made up. Truth is stranger than fiction.
    Patients never had any real way to review doctors before the internet exploded.

    • Suzi Q 38

      Yes, this is why I love the Internet for ratings, however flawed some of them are, good or bad.
      For one doctor I looked up, you could not have “made up” that story, LOL.
      The public is “the judge,” and the “court” of public opinion is very interesting.
      It beats small claims court.

      • querywoman

        Yup! It’s easy to say, “nice guy,” or “prize @sshole,” but so many of the posts have real details. I just gave a doc I’ve been seeing the past year a great review and totally blasted one I saw over 10 years ago. Both postings have real details.
        I’ve been to some doozy bad docs, and so have a lot of other people.

        Public reviews like these might motivate some to clean up their act.

        • Suzi Q 38

          You’re right.
          With the tort law in some states, that is all we have.
          No everyone wants to sue.
          Some are fine with just warning others.

          • querywoman

            Bad reviews haven’t put Wal-Mart out of business.
            I no longer shop there for various reasons and warn my friends about Wally World.
            I looked up a bad doc from my past. He’s aged and apparently has a hearing problem.
            Someone posted that he takes his hearing aid out when he doesn’t want to hear you.
            Why would anyone make that up?

          • Suzi Q 38

            You are right about Wal-mart.
            I remember when they put the wrong size tires on all 4 wheels of my car. I had a blow out on one tire, and they wouldn’t put the correct one because it was not compatible with the incorrect other 3 tires, LOL. I told them to just put the same one as the others, and they refused.
            I ended up with corporate, and corporate agreed with me, and reimbursed me for all 4 tires. At least they stand by their products. I was ready to take it to small claims court. I probably would have won.

            My husband will not go to Wal-mart because of that experience. I still go. Old habits die hard.
            My friends won’t go, because of the abrasiveness of some of the employees. I try not to go, but the pharmacy’s prices are hard to beat.

            Hilarious story about the doctor with the hearing aid. I knew one urologist that was in his late 70′s or early 80′s, still doing surgery. It wasn’t real obvious, but his hands shook a little. Minor case of Parkinson’s. In all fairness, I am not sure how popular he still was as a surgeon.

            These doctors hung around the hospital, but did they have a full surgery schedule? Not sure. Entertaining as it gets, though. I think the older ones still practicing didn’t have many patients left.

            The hospital doctor’s lounge is where they started their day.

          • querywoman

            My nearest little Wal-Mart is a infested boil in our neighborhood! The pharmacy is horrid; they will give you someone else’s med!
            The pharmacist is the most-respected professional in the US. Wally World has some truly idiot pharmacists. I think they hire too fast and inadequately train!
            I think the chemical fight in a Wal-Mart occurred after my last “incident” at my lil Wal-Mart. No need to elaborate.
            I quit shopping there, and try to encourage anyone I can to stay out of Wally World due to the risk of accidents and killings.

  • heartdoc345

    My favorite is when the “top rated” doctor in a given specialty on one of these websites has “sixty years of experience.” Really helpful advice till the patient realizes said doctor has been dead for 20 of them.

    • Suzi Q 38

      I love it when I walk into my doctor’s office and see the laminated
      “Top 100 Rated Doctors in Los Angeles” plaque on the waiting room counter.
      I think to myself: “Who decides this stuff??”

      Do doctors pay a fee to belong to the “100 club?”

      I don’t really think: “Wow, I am so proud that my surgeon made it on this list.”

      I don’t even know how the list was put together, or how the applicants were chosen.

      • Guest

        That garbage is so political it’s laughable. Do not ever choose someone off those lists (though I know you are smart enough to know that). I get a good laugh whenever I see a Top Doctors list.

Most Popular