Ratings and review websites have become one of the fundamental ways we assess the many services and products we wish to pursue.  These can include everything from travel to home repair to any product bought on Amazon – and even your healthcare provider. 

While it may seem strange to look at ratings and reviews for doctors, with 6 million Canadians still in search of a provider, being able to assess a potential new doctor through the experience of other patients can be useful in the journey of finding a new one. 

Prospective patients can learn a lot about health practitioners from ratings and reviews, but it’s important to be cautious and approach online ratings analytically and critically, and with a healthy dose of skepticism.  

Patient reviews and rankings provide a window into doctors’ practices, but the ratings are based on opinion rather than concrete data showing how well a doctor provided treatment or care. Additionally, depending on the platform, reviews may not be validated, may be written by fake patients, bots or simply by angry people with a bone to pick.  

In Canada, the most popular monitored ratings and review site for healthcare providers is RateMDs. Launched in the United States, it’s now owned by a Canadian company and has an extensive database of Canadian doctors and various other healthcare professionals that consumers can read about, rate and review. 


Doctor’s profiles are most often created by patients who can then anonymously rate and review their healthcare providers. Only patients with first-hand knowledge of the healthcare professional should leave a review, and only once. Rating the same practitioner more than once may result in all that user’s ratings being removed from the site. 

In turn, healthcare providers can claim their profile, giving them access to paid promotional services on the website along with the ability to manage certain aspects of their profile. 

Launched by healthcare professionals, RateMDs used to allow doctors to pay to have their negative ratings and reviews removed, but this is no longer allowed under Canada’s privacy laws.  

While RateMDs does not collect and store personal information of patients who post reviews anonymously, it does record the IP address and certain details of the device from which a review was posted. According to RateMDs, they do not release identifying information unless requested through proper legal channels such as a subpoena. 

Interpreting Online Doctor Ratings and Reviews  

Ratings on RateMDs are comprised of four elements that patients can rate: staff, punctuality, helpfulness and knowledge. Over time, that practice’s average star ratings compose their overall quality rating on RateMDs.  

Reviews are mostly left anonymously; however, a patient can also choose to log in to their account to leave an identifiable review. Anonymity protects the privacy of the patient, but it can also mean that people feel free to leave hyper critical or slanderous reviews.  

Healthcare providers are able to flag what they consider to be slanderous or personal attacks which RateMDs will review and may remove from the site. 

Here are four tips that will help you interpret online reviews and ratings for healthcare professionals, and will also help you assess their legitimacy 

  1. Scan all the reviews on the practices’ profile and read as many you can, keeping an eye on common themes or problems that seem to arise consistently. Consider how important these issues are to you. 
  1. Do the problems that consistently arise in the reviews pertain to the healthcare professional or with an administrative aspect of their practice? Reviews and ratings are individually subjective, so keep your spidey sense active when analyzing what is really being communicated in an online review.  
  1. Dig for comments with details that pertain to the quality of care of the healthcare professional. Comments such as “missed my mother’s tumour” or “thorough, ordered several tests” or “diagnosed my disease when others couldn’t” or “admitted they didn’t know but was happy to refer to a good network of specialists” are helpful. On the flip side, look for negative, repeat comments about the doctor such as “phoning it in” or “repeatedly downplayed and ignored my concerns”. 
  1. Fake reviews can be made by a competitor of the practice or 3rd parties who are not patients of the practice but wish to damage its reputation. Here’s how to spot fake reviews: 
  • Timing of the reviews. Be suspicious of a cluster of negative reviews that seem to come out of nowhere. 
  • Language. Does it sound like a real patient wrote the review? Signs of a fake review can include clumsy, vague, highly positive/negative or provocative language. 
  • Blatant promotion. Is page 1 of the profile stuffed with 5-star reviews? The practitioner may be “astroturfing”  – stuffing the profile with fake positive reviews.  

Google Reviews 

Reviews on Google make up about 80 per cent of all online reviews across all kinds of businesses. However, it’s important to understand that Google does not monitor or provide any kind of quality assurance that reviews are legitimate or, in the case of a healthcare practice, from a real patient. 

If you can sift through dubious reviews using the tips above, Google may be a useful tool in spotting trends and concerns that are consistent with those found on RateMDs. 

Best Practices for Writing Doctor Reviews 

Leaving a review can provide helpful information for other patients. If you feel comfortable writing one, here are some useful tips: 

  1. Be honest and tell the truth as you recall it. 
  1. Think about what other patients would find useful in your review. 
  1. Share details but protect your privacy. 
  1. Keep personal or slanderous attacks out of your review. Slanderous language may result in the doctor flagging the review and it could be removed along with all your other reviews per the RateMDs terms and conditions

Online reviews can provide healthcare consumers with a snapshot of the lived experiences of other patients. If you appreciate your doctor or had a less-than-ideal experience, writing a review can help others choose their healthcare practitioners with more knowledge, and with blinders resoundingly off. 

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