What patients say about their doctors online: a qualitative content analysis

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Jun;27(6):685-92. doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1958-4. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


Background: Doctor rating websites are a burgeoning trend, yet little is known about their content.

Objective: To explore the content of Internet reviews about primary care physicians.

Design: Qualitative content analysis of 712 online reviews from two rating websites. We purposively sampled reviews of 445 primary care doctors (internists and family practitioners) from four geographically dispersed U.S. urban locations. We report the major themes, and because this is a large sample, the frequencies of domains within our coding scheme.

Results: Most reviews (63%) were positive, recommending the physician. We found a major distinction between global reviews, "Dr. B is a great doctor." vs. specific descriptions which included interpersonal manner, "She always listens to what I have to say and answers all my questions."; technical competence "No matter who she has recommended re: MD specialists, this MD has done everything right."; and/or systems issues such as appointment and telephone access. Among specific reviews, interpersonal manner "Dr. A is so compassionate." and technical competence "He is knowledgeable, will research your case before giving you advice." comments tended to be more positive (69% and 80%, respectively), whereas systems-issues comments "Staff is so-so, less professional than should be…" were more mixed (60% positive, 40% negative).

Conclusions: The majority of Internet reviews of primary care physicians are positive in nature. Our findings reaffirm that the care encounter extends beyond the patient-physician dyad; staff, access, and convenience all affect patient's reviews of physicians. In addition, negative interpersonal reviews underscore the importance of well-perceived bedside manner for a successful patient-physician interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Online Systems*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / standards*
  • Qualitative Research
  • United States
  • Urban Health Services / standards