What 7M patient reviews reveal about doctors

Patients place top importance on the time a provider spent with them. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

What do patients have to say about their doctors? Just ask 7 million of them.

In essence, that’s what online ratings site Healthgrades and the Medical Group Management Association did yesterday as they released the results of what they said was an unprecedented analysis of almost 7 million patient reviews and comments.

The reviews were made by visitors to Healthgrades’ website as they rated about 1.1 million physicians, including those in all specialties and subspecialties across the country.

Along with medical expertise, patients want a meaningful connection with their doctor, the report (PDF) concluded. “The results of this analysis reflect that patients don’t just want to see a doctor; they want to be seen,” Brad Bowman, M.D., chief medical officer at Healthgrades, said in an announcement.

The analysis revealed the factors patients consistently cite as being most important to their overall experience with a provider. It found the following:

  • Overall, patients cite nonclinical factors as being important in their experience with a provider. More than 50% of patients mention at least one of these factors: compassion, comfort, patience, personality and bedside manner. And almost one-quarter (23%) of comments mention at least one of these factors: knowledge, time, insurance, appointment scheduling and communication. 
  • There was not a significant difference in how patients rated their physician by gender, though female patients rate their male doctor slightly more favorably than male patients rate their female doctor.
  • Patient feedback about their doctor is overwhelmingly positive, and the average star rating for a doctor is four stars based on Healthgrades’ five-star rating system.
  • In both positive and negative open-comment reviews, patients place top importance on the time a provider spent with them, particularly the doctor’s willingness to answer questions, listen to concerns and make sure patients fully understood their condition or procedure.
  • Of the attributes most commonly mentioned in a review, the topic cited most frequently in both positive and negative reviews is the interaction that the patient has with a doctor’s staff.

RELATED: How doctors can get better patient satisfaction scores

“It’s clear from the data what most people already intuitively know: The patient experience extends deeper and further than the walls of a surgical suite or exam room. Our data corroborates the crucial nature of our members role in the support of the physician-patient relationship through people, process and technology,” said Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D., the MGMA’s president and CEO.

The finding that patients value nonclinical factors is in line with a new study that found consumers care about both clinical and patient experience ratings to choose primary care doctors. A 2016 study found the perception that their physicians were empathetic was the biggest factor in patients' satisfaction.

The findings are significant given the move by private insurers and the government away from fee-for-service to value-based models that pay doctors for the quality of care they deliver.

The emphasis on the need for patient-centered care and empathy has led many providers to train healthcare professionals in interpersonal skills. Doctors can improve communication with patients with simple steps, such as smiling when they greet patients and maintaining eye contact.