discoveries magazine

Review Skew

Online physician-rating sites may mislead patients.

5 star review

LJ Davids

Sites like Yelp might be helpful for picking a handyman or spa, but what about selecting a physician? Research by Cedars-Sinai investigators suggests that the five-star scoring of consumer-review websites might lure patients into making less-than-optimal selections.

Timothy J. Daskivich, MD, director of Health Services Research in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Surgery, and his research team pulled two-and-a-half years of reviews from, a consumer-ratings website that ranks medical providers on a scale of one to five stars. They focused on 212,933 providers who received at least four reviews.

Their statistical analysis found that the ratings consistently skewed positive, leading to a kind of “grade inflation” for providers, implying that most doctors are above average. Small variations among the scores make it difficult for a potential patient to tell good doctors from bad—or good from better.

Satisfaction ratings also differed significantly by medical specialty. Those variations might be related to the nature of the work, Daskivich says. Psychiatrists, who treat emotional trauma over the long term, tend to get lower ratings than chiropractors, who provide almost immediate physical relief.

To facilitate more helpful decisionmaking, the team created, an online calculator that compares a provider’s online ratings with others in their specialty to more accurately show how they measure up to their peers.