Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 685–692 | Cite as

What Patients Say About Their Doctors Online: A Qualitative Content Analysis

  • Andrea López
  • Alissa Detz
  • Neda Ratanawongsa
  • Urmimala SarkarEmail author
Original Research



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


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


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.


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).


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.


patient satisfaction primary care family medicine patient–physician relationship 



The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Anna M. Nápoles and Dr. Dean Schillinger for their early advice on this project. Dr. Sarkar is supported by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality K08 HS017594 and National Center for Research Resources KL2RR024130.

None of the funders had any role in design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

None disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea López
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alissa Detz
    • 3
  • Neda Ratanawongsa
    • 1
    • 2
  • Urmimala Sarkar
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.UCSF Center for Vulnerable PopulationsSan Francisco General HospitalSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal MedicineUniversity of California, San Francisco General HospitalSan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.California Pacific Medical CenterSan FranciscoUSA

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