The Limitations of Online Doctor Reviews and How to Get Around Them

Internet review services like can be extremely useful when you’re in need of an Italian restaurant or hair salon, but what about for a new doctor? Sites like Yelp, along with,, and, have emerged in the past decade to give patients an avenue of public praising or shaming of the professionals they’ve seen. However, rating a doctor is a much more complicated task than rating a coffee shop; to be a good physician, you don’t necessarily say what the patient wants to hear. In addition, as a patient, you may be vastly unaware of what is going on behind the scenes of your visit, meaning you’re only seeing a corner of a picture that could be much better or much worse than you believe it to be.

While healthy skepticism of doctor review sites is a movement in the right direction, there are also ways they can be used more successfully. We’ve created a list of helpful suggestions for both patients and doctors to create an awareness of such review sites’ limitations as well as ways to better utilize them:

What patients should know:

  • Reviews reflect small populations. Researchers found that healthcare review websites (including all mentioned above) had a median of between only 1 and 4 reviews.[1] This is hardly reflective of the hundreds of patients a doctor has worked with over the course of their career.
  • Review writers often exist at the extremes. Those most likely to leave a review are those that were either very satisfied or very displeased with the experience they had with a given professional. Therefore, viewing them as a cross-section of a given doctor’s patients is a poor reflection of actual patient representation.
  • Probation and mistakes aren’t revealed online. Review sites don’t reveal the potential disciplinary actions that thousands of physicians currently face from their respective state medical boards.[2] Misconduct, addiction, serious medical errors, and negligence are all actions that slide under the radar when it comes to online reviews.[3]
  • Some medical groups resort to “review stuffing.”[4] Some physicians or medical organizations may ask office staff, friends, and family to write glowing reviews, warping the truth through highlighting a doctor’s greatness but giving few details about actual practice.[5]

What doctors should know:

  • Be a good communicator. Patient engagement is intrinsically tied with satisfaction; a patient wants to know their doctor is paying full attention to them, as it will lead them to believe they are being valued and their medical concerns considered thoughtfully.[6] This is key to positive online reviews.
  • Offer patients ample opportunities to provide feedback. Before unhappy patients take to the public forums, doctors and clinics should offer post-appointment questionnaires that make it easy for patients to complain upfront.[7] This gives medical professionals more control in the situation and can help to improve their practice more directly.
  • Establish a professional profile. When a doctor’s professional site pops up in a web search before a review site, potential patients will be offered the opportunity to learn specifics about a physicians experience, interests, and practice values.[8]
  • Train staff to provide excellent customer service. Medical staff should learn to acknowledge patients properly, introduce themselves, spend sufficient time with a patient without seeming rushed, explain clearly and thoroughly, and thank the patient.[9]
  • Request reviews; never pressure. Encourage patients who have expressed gratitude for successful treatment to leave reviews, but never force the issue.[10]

As the author of a article writes in regards to the online review trend, “Basing your choice of doctor on just two, just seven or even just 20 reviews is a bit like taking career advice from YouTube comments.”[11] Despite their questionable reliability, internet reviews are certain to remain influential in the coming years for both doctors and patients. Therefore, while you can swear by their ineffectiveness, knowing how to successfully navigate them is an equally important skill to learn.

[1] Lee, Bruce Y., “Study Shows Major Limitations Of Websites That Rate Doctors,”, Feb. 23, 2017,

[2]Rabkin Peachman, Rachel, “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You,”, Apr. 20, 2016,

[3] Ibid

[4] King, Ron, “How to Get Good Online Patient Reviews Ethically,”, Sept. 27, 2014,

[5] Ibid

[6] Swift Yasgur, Batya, “6 Ways to Get Patients to Rate You A+,”, Mar. 2, 2016,

[7] King, “How to Get Good Online Patient Reviews”

[8] “New recommendations offer physicians ethical guidance for preserving trust in patient-physician relationships and the profession when using social media,” American College of Physicians, n.d.,

[9] Swift Yasgur, “6 Ways to Get Patients”

[10] King, “How to Get Good Online Patient Reviews”

[11] Lee, “Study Shows Major Limitations”