Physician Ratings

I wrote a post last May about how consumers would enter the health system. I discussed the options for doctor searching and finding. Many companies are trying to create healthcare-specific solutions in that area.

The biggest, or at least the most widely known because of its funding and press, is ZocDoc. But that space has heated up a lot over the last several years. Companies offering variations of doctor finding, with and without appointment booking, are DocAsap, iTriage, HealthTap, ShareCare, and, to name only a few.

Provider search is also a big push by payers, including traditional players such as the Blue plans as well as newer payers like Oscar. Health systems offer provider search as well. People have options for searching for physicians.

In searching for anything online — from restaurants to books to medical providers — a big part of the decision is based on reviews. I choose Amazon products based solely on reviews. If I’m shopping by category and don’t know the brands or specific products, I just choose the item with the most reviews. There are usually 2-3 products in a category with similar ratings (stars) but usually one of them has way more ratings. That’s the one I pick. I’m sure Amazon knows this about me and could be gaming the system, but I don’t worry about that because I don’t have time to read all of the reviews.

I stumbled on a Harvard Business School (HBS) case study that looked at the effect of Yelp ratings on restaurant revenue. One conclusions was that a one-star increase in ratings led to 5-9 percent increase in revenue. Another was that consumers do not use all available information when making a decision. This is not surprising to me since I use Yelp the same way. I just look at the ratings and rarely read the reviews themselves. Maybe I’m lazy, but I think most people use reviews the same way.

Similar to products and restaurants, ratings are powerful for consumers searching for medical providers. Consumers crave the same ratings for physicians and practices. It’s a growing expectation. A recent survey found that a third of consumers use a physician rating or review site.

Some important factors, such as whether the physician is in-network, don’t exist for restaurants. But in time, payers and all other physician finders will offer rating systems of their own or will integrate third-party ratings.

Healthcare ratings and reviews are more important to certain segments of the population, namely those who are younger, healthier, and likely to incur less healthcare expense. That makes ratings and reviews more important for providers who find that target population attractive.

Many rating systems exist. They are embedded into platforms such as ZocDoc; but Angie’s List, Yelp, HealthGrades, and Vitals have their own provider rating systems. Even HealthTap has its own ratings, interactions on HealthTap (the number of questions answered) are incorporated into them, similar to those for software developers who use Stack Overflow.

The real challenge with ratings, especially considering their potential impact on revenue and new patients, is that physicians and health systems don’t control them. Providers can improve the overall patient experience to improve their ratings — which is the best way to build and maintain a competitive advantage as well as to boost HCAHPS scores — but that takes time. Even then, not every patient will be happy and leave a five-star rating.

Providers and systems need to manage their ratings, or at least start thinking about them. With margins shrinking, losing any revenue is a big deal. Filling schedules, especially with younger and better-insured patients, can have an impact.

I’m curious what providers and systems are thinking about online ratings and reviews. I imagine providers that do a lot of self-pay services (like cosmetics and dental) are already actively trying to manage their online reputations.

I started to think about this last week when I met the founder of ReviewTrackers, a dashboard to monitor online reviews about your business. This seems like a smart idea. With all of these sources of reviews and ratings and given the importance of them, how in the world is a system or individual provider supposed to manage all of this? Other services like offer similar value. I’d be interesting in hearing about hospitals or practices that are actively tracking and managing their online reputations.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA and co-founder of Catalyze. More about me.

  • Farrokh Alemi

    Great review of this segment of the industry. Thanks Travis. One area that is missed in this discussion is the use of reviews to replace satisfaction surveys. Rapid Improvement Inc., a company I work for, does so. CMS and accountable care organizations are pushing for performance evaluations and the current thinking is that satisfaction surveys such as CAHPS surveys could be used in this context. We have designed a process that can replace CAHPS surveys. We routinely solicit patient reviews and use sentiment analysis to analyze it. The result is a process that is easier on patients and leads to higher response (1 question instead of 26 questions). Costs less. Provides same numeric benchmarked reports as longer surveys. In addition, provides more granular reports of patient experiences. The point is that patient reviews can be used by practices and insurers to make improvements. In this manner, these reviews replace and improve an existing function of what these organization are doing instead of adding one additional task. For more see or go to

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