Several years ago, I was an editor for a group of hospitality trade magazines. When our editorial team decided to dig into a trend report on how the Internet was affecting the hotel industry, I was tasked with writing an article about customer review websites like TripAdvisor.

It didn’t take long to learn one very basic fact: Hoteliers really don’t like these sites (or at least, they didn’t at the time). The problem is it’s far too easy for someone to leave a negative review based on a very subjective experience, skewing an overall score and potentially impacting future travelers’ choices in where they’ll stay. When I got a TripAdvisor executive to agree to do a webinar to discuss how the industry might better leverage its site, our registrations for the event went through the roof.

Fast-forward to today, and here I am covering the very different—and yet in some ways very similar—industry of healthcare design. And while healthcare in general may still be a bit removed from the TripAdvisor frenzy that hospitality experienced all those years ago, patient review websites are picking up steam.

In the Feb. 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), results were shared from a September 2012 national survey on knowledge about and use of online ratings for selecting physicians, showing that 65 percent of respondents reported awareness of online physician ratings websites and about one-fourth reported using the sites.

“Patients are increasingly turning to online physician ratings, just as they have sought ratings for other products and services. Little is known about the public’s awareness and use of online physician ratings, and whether these sites influence decisions about selecting a physician,” a press release states.

Overall, 40 percent of respondents reported that physician rating sites were “very important” when choosing a physician, although they’re used less frequently than other factors like recommendations from family and friends. Among those who decided to check out online ratings in the previous year, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37 percent avoided one due to low marks.

In an age where patient satisfaction is king, it might be time to start thinking beyond implications of HCAHPS scores and reimbursements, albeit those two things are extremely important. It’s also about ensuring that the experiences of patients today don't deter future patients from entering a facility’s door—and how design can play a role in the process.

While these websites largely assess things like wait time, ease of appointments, accepted insurance, and the physician’s personal care delivery, we all know the built environment can affect how one feels when walking away from a doctor’s appointment. In fact, even asks users to rate “office environment, cleanliness, comfort, etc.” as part of is patient surveys.

In general, the sites use a star rating system to grade physicians, while some (like and also allow users to write reviews like you would for a purchase on Amazon. Unrestricted by specific survey questions, this narrative provides the opportunity to share with fellow patients any number of factors that influenced an experience—the built environment included.

So how can designers help clients not only satisfy current patients but also help attract future Web-savvy ones? To start, think about what’s being surveyed and what’s dragging scores down. If there’s an issue with wait time, how can a design be tweaked to support better operational flow? If engagement is lacking, perhaps a space could be created that fosters better communication between physician and patient.

There are a number of challenges facing providers today, especially on the patient satisfaction front. And this particular one is just starting to heat up. According to the JAMA article, in 2008, awareness and use of physician rating sites were in the ballpark of 15 percent and 3 percent, respectively—meaning the 2012 data captures exponential growth in just four years' time.

Those are numbers worth noting. Just ask a hotel owner.