Patients' ratings of family physician practices on the internet: usage and associations with conventional measures of quality in the English National Health Service

J Med Internet Res. 2012 Oct 17;14(5):e146. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2280.


Background: Patients are increasingly rating their family physicians on the Internet in the same way as they might rate a hotel on TripAdvisor or a seller on eBay, despite physicians' concerns about this process.

Objective: This study aims to examine the usage of NHS Choices, a government website that encourages patients to rate the quality of family practices in England, and associations between web-based patient ratings and conventional measures of patient experience and clinical quality in primary care.

Methods: We obtained all (16,952) ratings of family practices posted on NHS Choices between October 2009 and December 2010. We examined associations between patient ratings and family practice and population characteristics. Associations between ratings and survey measures of patient experience and clinical outcomes were examined.

Results: 61% of the 8089 family practices in England were rated, and 69% of ratings would recommend their family practice. Practices serving younger, less deprived, and more densely populated areas were more likely to be rated. There were moderate associations with survey measures of patient experience (Spearman ρ 0.37-0.48, P<.001 for all 5 variables), but only weak associations with measures of clinical process and outcome (Spearman ρ less than ± 0.18, P<.001 for 6 of 7 variables).

Conclusion: The frequency of patients rating their family physicians on the Internet is variable in England, but the ratings are generally positive and are moderately associated with other measures of patient experience and weakly associated with clinical quality. Although potentially flawed, patient ratings on the Internet may provide an opportunity for organizational learning and, as it becomes more common, another lens to look at the quality of primary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • England
  • Family Practice / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration*
  • National Health Programs / standards
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Quality of Health Care*