Patient Use of Online Reviews – 2013

The health care ecosystem today is increasingly putting patients, rather than treatments, at the center of care. New payment models are rewarding value rather than volume, and the concept of patients as consumers is growingly prevalent.

It’s no surprise that in their role as empowered consumers, patients are turning to online physician reviews to get information about doctors. We surveyed a random sample of 4,515 patients in the U.S., collecting a minimum of 500 respondents for each question, to learn the which sites people are using to leave and consult patient online reviews to research doctors, when they’re using them, and what they’re looking for.

Key Findings

  1. Healthgrades is the most popular online review site, but Yelp is the most trusted.
  2. Patients are most likely to use online reviews as a first step in finding a new doctor.
  3. Patients using online reviews are primarily seeking information related to the accuracy of diagnoses, physicians’ experience and wait times.

Healthgrades Is Most Popular; Yelp Is Most Trusted

Where are patients turning to find reviews of doctors online? Healthgrades is the most commonly-used site, with 43 percent of review users turning there first. Yelp is second most popular, with 34 percent of users listing it as their first choice.

Yet, when asked which online reviews site they find most trustworthy, more patients chose Yelp than Healthgrades. 44 percent of patients selected Yelp as most trustworthy, compared to 31 percent for Healthgrades.

We recommend making sure you’re listed on both Healthgrades and Yelp, and that your profiles on each site contain accurate information. Among the under 35 age group, Yelp weighs in as both most used and most trustworthy, so if you want to attract more young adults, Yelp is the best online review site to focus your efforts on.

Patients Use Online Reviews as a First Step

We asked patients using online review sites how they use reviews to research doctors. The majority (62 percent) use online reviews as a first step to find a new doctor. 19 percent use online reviews to validate the choice of a doctor they’ve tentatively selected before making an appointment. And another 19 percent use online reviews to evaluate an existing doctor.

With so many patients using online reviews as a means of finding a new doctor, patient review sites could be a great marketing channel for your practice, helping you attract patients who otherwise might never have found you.

Patients Are Most Interested in Quality of Care

We asked patients to rank the top three types of information they seek when visiting online review sites. Patients are most interested in information about the quality of care provided, with 45 percent of patients ranking it among the most important.

Also important are patient rating scores – a doctor’s overall rating from patients on the site – with 39 percent of patients ranking that among the most important information they seek.

Types of Information Sought by Patients

If you ask patients to review you online, ask them to provide details about the quality of care provided. And address negative ratings to try to resolve those issues to keep your overall ratings high. Most sites do allow you to publicly respond to negative reviews. But remember to use caution when responding to reviews online – patient privacy is a major factor. This article outlines what you can’t do, what you shouldn’t do, and what you can and should do to address negative online reviews.

Accuracy of Diagnosis Is Most Important Information Sought

We’ve established that information about the quality of care is most important to patients using online review sites. But what specific information are they looking for?

46 percent of patients say information about the accuracy of diagnoses is most important. 17 percent of patients are most interested in how well the doctor explains things, while another 15 percent are most interested in how well the doctor listens.

Most Important Information about Quality of Care

When curating your online reviews, look specifically for patient comments about the accuracy of your diagnoses. If you find negative commentary, address it.

Experience/Certifications Most Important Demographic Info

When patients look for demographic information online, the most important information they’re looking for is a doctor’s years of experience. 37 percent of patients rank this the most important demographic information.

27 percent rank certifications as most important. Age and academic background are most important to 14 and 13 percent of patients, respectively. And the doctor’s gender is most important to 8 percent of patients.

Most Important Demographic Information

Be sure online review sites like Healthgrades and Yelp are up-to-date with how long you’ve been in practice and with your certifications. If you’re a younger or newer doctor, showcase your certifications. Additionally, academic background is most important to patients age 55+ – so if that’s your target patient population, be sure your academic background is included on your profile as well.

Wait Times/Payment Issues Most Important Admin Info

When it come to administrative or logistical details about a practice, patients are primarily turning to online review sites to find information about wait times and billing or payment issues. 31 percent of patients say details on wait time are most important, while 21 percent indicate information about billing or payment is most important.

Friendliness of office staff is most important to 19 percent of patients; 16 percent look primarily for information about ease of scheduling; and for 9 percent, information about the office environment and its cleanliness is most important.

Most Important Administrative Information

These findings suggest that if you want to attract new patients, you should work on your wait times. Or, if your wait times are already in good shape, ask patients to comment on the short waits in online reviews of your practice.

26% Willing To Go Out-of-Network Because of Reviews

Over a quarter of insured patients are willing to visit a doctor outside their insurance network if that doctor’s reviews are higher than those of an in-network doctor.

That means good reviews may just help you attract patients even if they’re not in a network you’re partnered with. But in a face-off, insurance networks still beat out online reviews.

Only 21 percent of males indicated they’d be willing to go out-of-network based on reviews, compared to 31 percent of females. And the willingness to go out-of-network increases with age.

Willingness to Go Out of Network by Gender

Willingness to Go Out of Network by Age

25% of Patients Use Online Reviews to Research Doctors

This figure is much smaller than the percent of consumers using online reviews to, say, find a place to get their haircut. We were surprised the use of online reviews isn’t more prevalent. But 25 percent is still a significant portion of patients – one you can’t afford to ignore.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger patients are generally more likely to use online reviews than older patients, although a weighty 27 percent of the 65+ age group uses online reviews. The likelihood to use online reviews also increases as income increases. And those in urban areas are more likely to use online reviews than those in suburban or rural areas.

Patients Using Online Reviews by Age

Patients Using Online Reviews by Income

Patients Using Online Reviews by Urbanicity

Males are about 25 percent more likely to use online reviews than females. So if, for example, you’re a urologist, or a physician looking to attract more male patients, curating your presence on online review sites is even more important.

Patients Using Online Reviews by Gender

Only 10% of Patients Leave Online Reviews

Among all patients surveyed, 90 percent indicate that they don’t leave reviews for their doctors online.

If we narrow that sample to include only the patients who actually use online reviews to research doctors, we can estimate that some 41 percent of patients who use online reviews also leave them.

Interestingly, although those in rural areas are least likely to use online reviews for research, they’re most likely to leave them for their doctors. And while younger people tend to be more likely to use online reviews, they’re actually least likely to leave them. The likelihood to leave reviews increases with age, until the age of 65, at which point it tapers off again.

Patients Leaving Reviews Online by Urbanicity

Patients Leaving Reviews Online by Age

It’s not surprising that more people use online reviews than leave them – this problem is not unique to healthcare. But if you want to use online review sites to attract new patients, it’s important to have as many of your patients as possible review you online. So how can you bridge the gap between patients who use online reviews and those who leave them? Many times it’s as simple as asking.


Having a strong presence on sites with patient online reviews can help you attract new patients, and in some cases even retain existing patients. The best way to boost your online review impact is to ask your patients to leave reviews for you.

Get creative: consider offering an incentive such as a giveaway for patients to leave reviews. You could also ask patients how they found you, and focus your efforts on getting those who found you through online reviews to leave reviews for you – they’re probably more likely to do so since they’re already familiar with the reviews sites. Or since you know that age is correlated with likelihood to leave reviews, you could try encouraging your patients age 35+ to leave reviews for you.

You should also make sure your information is up-to-date on review sites, and work to keep it updated over time. To minimize the risk of a negative review hurting your chances at winning new business, monitor your patient reviews to potentially address negative feedback. Just remember to tread carefully when responding publicly to negative feedback, keeping patient privacy front of mind.

To further discuss this report or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at

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