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Web-Based Physician Ratings for California Physicians on Probation

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Web-based physician ratings systems are a popular tool to help patients evaluate physicians. Websites help patients find information regarding physician licensure, office hours, and disciplinary records along with ratings and reviews. Whether higher patient ratings are associated with higher quality of care is unclear.


The aim of this study was to characterize the impact of physician probation on consumer ratings by comparing website ratings between doctors on probation against matched controls.


A retrospective review of data from the Medical Board of California for physicians placed on probation from December 1989 to September 2015 was performed. Violations were categorized into nine types. Nonprobation controls were matched by zip code and specialty with probation cases in a 2:1 ratio using the California Department of Consumer Affairs website. Web-based reviews were recorded from,, and (ratings range from 1-5).


A total of 410 physicians were placed on probation for 866 violations. The mean (standard deviation [SD]) number of ratings per doctor was 5.2 (7.8) for cases and 4 (6.3) for controls (P=.003). The mean rating for physicians on probation was 3.7 (1.6) compared with 4.0 (1.0) for controls when all three rating websites were pooled (P<.001). Violations for medical documentation, incompetence, prescription negligence, and fraud were found to have statistically significant lower rating scores. Conversely, scores for professionalism, drugs or alcohol, crime, sexual misconduct, and personal illness were similar between cases and controls. In a univariate analysis, probation was found to be associated with lower rating, odds ratio=1.5 (95% CI 1.0-2.2). This association was not significant in a multivariate model when we included age and gender.


Web-based physician ratings were lower for doctors on probation indicating that patients may perceive a difference. Despite these statistical findings, the absolute difference was quite small. Physician rating websites have utility but are imperfect proxies for competence. Further research on physician Web-based ratings is warranted to understand what they measure and how they are associated with quality.

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