Background Public performance reporting (PPR) of physician and hospital data aims to improve health outcomes by promoting quality improvement and informing consumer choice. However, previous studies have demonstrated inconsistent effects of PPR, potentially due to the various PPR characteristics examined. The aim of this study was to undertake a systematic review of the impact and mechanisms (selection and change), by which PPR exerts its influence. Methods Studies published between 2000 and 2020 were retrieved from five databases and eight reviews. Data extraction, quality assessment and synthesis were conducted. Studies were categorised into: user and provider responses to PPR and impact of PPR on quality of care. Results Forty-five studies were identified: 24 on user and provider responses to PPR, 14 on impact of PPR on quality of care, and seven on both. Most of the studies reported positive effects of PPR on the selection of providers by patients, purchasers and providers, quality improvement activities in primary care clinics and hospitals, clinical outcomes and patient experiences. Conclusions The findings provide moderate level of evidence to support the role of PPR in stimulating quality improvement activities, informing consumer choice and improving clinical outcomes. There was some evidence to demonstrate a relationship between PPR and patient experience. The effects of PPR varied across clinical areas which may be related to the type of indicators, level of data reported and the mode of dissemination. It is important to ensure that the design and implementation of PPR considered the perspectives of different users and the health system in which PPR operates in. There is a need to account for factors such as the structural characteristics and culture of the hospitals that could influence the uptake of PPR.