For areas where we publish Consumers' Checkbook magazine—the Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Seattle-Tacoma, Twin Cities, and Washington, DC, areas—our Ratings Tables provide ratings of primary care physicians, based on our surveys of patients. For both primary care physicians and many types of specialists, patients are the best source of information on many aspects of quality, including how well physicians listen, explain things, help patients coordinate care among other physicians and health care providers, and make themselves accessible for appointments and advice. These aspects of care are critical to prevention, to accurate diagnoses, and to a patient’s ability and motivation to do his or her part in carrying out a plan of care.

Our survey asked consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers) to rate their experiences with doctors they had recently used on several aspects of care and service—

  • Listening to/communicating with you
  • Personal manner (courtesy, respect, sensitivity, friendliness)
  • Spending enough time with you
  • Seeking your input in making decisions
  • Coordinating your care
  • Giving prevention/self-help advice
  • Thoroughness, carefulness, and apparent competence
  • Arranging to see you quickly when you request an appointment
  • Giving timely, helpful advice by phone or email
  • Keeping down office waiting time
  • Overall quality

These questions are not just about pleasantness or comfort; they go to the heart of quality medical care. For example, research has shown that patients who get care from doctors who listen and communicate well tend to receive more accurate diagnoses, respond better to treatment, and recover more quickly. Certainly, it is hard for a doctor to make a good diagnosis or a good treatment plan without listening to what is bothering you and hearing about any impediments you might have to self care. And you are more likely to do your part in care—for example, taking medicine and making lifestyle changes—if the doctor has successfully communicated what is expected of you, why it is important, and what effects you can expect to experience.

We have reported what percentage of respondents rated each physician as “very good” or “excellent” (as opposed to “poor,” “fair,” or “good”) on each question. We have reported results for all of the physicians for whom we received at least 10 ratings on our customer surveys.

Many physicians were rated “very good” or “excellent” for “overall quality” by more than 95 percent of their surveyed patients. But some other doctors received such favorable ratings from fewer than 70 percent of their surveyed patients.

We also share the comments surveyed patients submitted with their ratings. Most commenters heap praise upon their committed, caring physicians. But some describe doctors who tend to frustrate their patients more often than they solve their problems.

While many of the doctors rated by their patients are good candidates, keep in mind that often the number of raters is small and that any of these doctors might have scored substantially higher or lower with a larger number of respondents. Also keep in mind that the survey responses are inherently subjective. Because the doctor-patient relationship is very personal, a physician our respondents liked may not be right for you.

The table below gives a rough guide to minimum differences you should look for in deciding on one company over another.

A rough guide for deciding whether the difference between two percentages is important If one doctor had this number of ratings: And a second doctor had this number of ratings: Do not give much importance to the difference between percentages unless the difference is at least this many percentage points:
Assuming the average of the two firms' percentages is 50 percent 10
30
60
120
10
30
60
120
45
26
18
13
Assuming the average of the two firms' percentages is 80 percent 10
30
60
120
10
30
60
120
36
21
15
10