Ep. 37: How to Effectively Use Physician Online Reviews
Finding a physician who you trust can be a stressful task. Between locating someone who takes your insurance and works nearby, it has always been a job that takes some work. However, people are now also seeking validation of a physician’s excellence not only from people they know but also from strangers via the physician online reviews.
The average patient who is looking for an honest review of a physician may read reviews that are not related to their specific work as a medical professional. I previously discussed why it is important to understand that the online physician review process is in crisis. Many times, they are completely unreliable.
This new problem with fake online physician reviews has led to the need for us to monitor and protect our online reputation. But, we didn’t know that we needed to pay attention to online reviews until recently, so now we are scrambling to catch up.
Monitoring online reviews takes time away from clinical work. There are only so many hours in a day; therefore, we ALL lose when physicians are not using their time to improve health!
I must confess that I did not Google myself until about 5 years ago. And honestly, I still remember gasping at my reviews! I have been practicing in Atlanta for nearly 30 years and have treated thousands of satisfied patients. But on review sites, I had gained 1-2 reviews each year from angry patients. Because there were not many good reviews, my score was a D!!
Whaaaat? I have been that straight-A student my entire life, so I nearly passed out to see this rating. I’m still embarrassed thinking about it.
So, I took a few months to ask my long term patients to write some online reviews. These parents repeatedly brought me their children and referred their friends and family to me. Clearly, they believed I was a good physician who they trusted. Now I needed them to share their opinions with the rest of the world.
It felt wrong. Asking for praise seemed such a vain thing to do. But I understood that people who did not already know me need proof that I am a competent physician. So, I needed to show some balance with the services I provide. My scores now range from a high B to a low A on most sites. Please know that deep down, this is still killing the overachiever in me! But I will keep that score rather than continue to ask for reviews.
I take care of hundreds of patients every month, and the vast majority are extremely satisfied. How else could my practice thrive for so long? I know that some physicians have made it a part of their practice to routinely ask for patient reviews.
I now only ask for reviews when I see a couple of bad reviews in a row. My motto is “everything in moderation.” I can accept that everyone does not love me, but I cannot accept that no one loves me. So, if you are my patient and I ask you to write me a review, this is why.
It still feels awkward to ask for praise, but this is the world we live it. It is important that patients understand this.
Why could physician online reviews be unreliable?
As I discussed in my previous post, there are many reasons physician online reviews may not share the information we are looking for. The bottom line is that there has been an increasing amount of distrust directed toward the medical community. More people have even begun to doubt the expert opinions shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are backed by extensive research.
Physicians are trained to trust science and to seek answers that are reproducible. Few things in life are 100% predictable; therefore, evidence-based medicine has been proven to help save lives. We combine research with our extensive experience in order to reach conclusions that are best for each patient.
The CDC is well known as a rapid response organization that is key to determining things like the causes of deadly illnesses. And then they work tirelessly to find cures and strategies to prevent recurrent problems.
Globally, the CDC is a well-respected organization and brought about many commonly accepted public health initiatives that were not present when I was younger.
I remember watching Joe Camel entice everyone to be cool by smoking cigarettes. There were vending machines filled with cigarettes in every restaurant! All of us were subjected to second-hand smoke until the CDC did its job and sounded the alarm. We are now healthier because of their research on tobacco and smoking risks.
When I was young, my family’s station wagon used to travel 70-80 mph with at least two of us kids lying down in the back of the car! Seat belts and car seats were not a thing. But countless preventable deaths occurred until speed limit and seat belt laws were made based on the exceptional research by the CDC.
And of course, we know that the spread of many preventable diseases was stopped each time a new vaccine was created. Even though I am a surgeon, I have personally witnessed and shared my 30-year experience noting the huge decrease in life-threatening illnesses because of vaccines.
With all the work done by this organization to improve global health, why have some people suddenly decided the CDC is a biased organization which earns from pharmaceutical companies and this is the reason they recommend vaccines? If you believe this, how can you trust the same organization who recommends seat belts and car seats? Wouldn’t this organization also somehow benefit from car seat manufacturers? You should not be able to trash the CDC reputation as being unreliable yet pick and choose times when you think they are reliable!
So negative false online reviews impact many healthcare organizations as well as physicians. If you are going to read these types of reviews, I would like to share a few tips to help you use them.
4 tips to better interpret physician online reviews
1. Check the dates the comments were made
Over the years, when random reviews are left, many physicians might get 3-5 per year. But even if a physician receives hundreds of reviews each year, they should be spread out pretty evenly over that time.
When there is a huge surge in reviews in a short period of time, something suspicious is probably happening.
Suspect fake reviews when large numbers of reviews are clustered together.
2. Read the comments
Do they make sense? Are they vague or are there specific details about the interaction that could be useful to you? Do they make you feel like they actually went to the physician or visited the office?
If it says that the office is old and dilapidated or the doctors didn’t know what they were doing, at least you know that you are getting a first-hand response. A bad review may also help you prepare for terrible parking which is not validated. Or even that the online registration process is tricky.
That is useful information but does not mean the physician is bad. Facts matter.
3. Look at the number of stars for ratings
We have all had bad experiences with products and services. How many times when you were unhappy was it the worst experience you have ever had? That feeling would be a 1-star rating.
I have had bad experiences that did not include every aspect of the service I was hoping to get. Yet, there were still some good things about the interaction. Many of our bad reviews would be 2-3 rating. Thinking back to school, a 5 is an A and 3 is a C. No one wants to provide C level service, but it means there were a few things wrong but not everything. It was not a total fail.
Leaving a 1-star rating is the lowest fail possible. How often has that happened where you had an experience you felt had no redeeming qualities? It should not be common. so how can you interpret 10 back-to-back 1-star ratings, all within a week? Not possible in real life.
Now, if a physician only gets 1-2 reviews a year, and they are all 1-star spaced over a few years, it could be valid that only really unhappy people wrote reviews that were honest and true.
4. Become a reviewer yourself
We all seek healthcare from physicians we love but how many of us take the time to leave a review? If more of us do this, we can drown out the noise of fraudulent reviews. It can also give you time to reflect on a visit that you enjoyed but still understand that there is a wait time. And you can reflect on your role…did you arrive on time? did you have your paperwork filled out? Even though your visit may not have been perfect, is this a physician you could vouch for and recommend? Then do so. Someone will appreciate your honesty.
The future of online physician reviews
Physicians are starting to fight back. We realize that we cannot just focus on improving your health, but we must also fight to protect our own reputations. Currently, the most common assaults come from AntiVaxxers, gun rights advocates, the anti-choice movement, and non-physician healthcare providers who continue to seek to expand the care that they provide to patients.
Physicians remain the same. We want to maximize your health and protect you from false and dangerous information.
With everyone using social media more often, there is an increasing awareness about the impact of cyberbullying Cyberbullying has consequences and there plenty of stories of people committing suicide or developing depression and other mental health problems because of it. Physicians are not immune.
I am a big believer that complaining about a problem is not effective unless you also offer suggestions on how to fix the problem. So, even though I personally have no power to make any changes, I want to share with the world some options that I think could make progress toward fixing this broken system.
5 Recommendations to improve the value of online physician reviews
1. Review sites require verification that product or service was used
Just as Amazon.com has some reviews labeled as a “verified buyer”, wouldn’t it be awesome if the review sites required people to check a box that confirms they are a patient? Having only verified patients leaving reviews would immediately increase the credibility and usefulness of the online physician reviews.
2. Implement a 2 tier review system
Since traffic is king on the internet, I understand that review sites do not really care why people are coming, they want the visitors. By only allowing verified patients to leave reviews, the sites could lose visitors.
Therefore, the sites could create a 2 tier review system. Visitors who are not actual patients could check a box indicating they have never seen this physician but want to share an opinion based on things they have read or been told.
These second-hand reviews can be left on the site but should be collected as a separate score. The main physician rating would only include actual patient reviews while the total rating could include the harassers who are still free to leave their opinions.
3. People who make false reviews acknowledge that may be sued for libel
In addition to acknowledging that a reviewer has never actually seen a physician, there should be another box to check which indicates that they accept the risk that they will be held responsible to a slanderous post.
Additionally, for actual patients, there can be a disclaimer that could say that the reviewer affirms that their statements are true. Inflammatory comments that are proven to be untrue may lead to legal action.
4. Review sites have easy processes for challenging false reviews
And just as Facebook had to become accountable for fake profiles which share propaganda, Google and other online review sites need to institute methods for physicians to easily report fake reviews to be examined and removed.
The current processes are too cumbersome and not effective, so this must be improved. There should be no need to have physicians to hire companies and pay for this service only to be attacked once again. Review site companies should be responsible for policing their sites and not allow uncontrolled slanderous attacks.
5. Update HIPAA laws so physicians are allowed to respond
HIPPA laws are intended to protect patient health information. However, if patients share their own information and use their interpretation as a weapon to assault physicians, physicians should be able to respond.
The physician’s response should NEVER share new information but simply responding and acknowledging this is our patient should not be an issue.
I understand changing laws is a huge task but options for acceptable responses could include some limited comments such as:
- “I am sorry for your experience; however, ordering a CT scan for your problem was not indicated. You may return to the office to discuss further options”, or
- “We ordered lab work that confirmed our course of action is appropriate” or
- “I apologize for your long wait time but our records show you arrived 15 minutes late for the appointment and had to be worked in to be seen to avoid causing additional delays to patients that arrived on time”
Of course, physicians could continue to never respond, but if they do, they also recognize they must be careful to NOT share specific health information. Comments such as the ones listed above are rather general but they could add some context to the complaint that can help others interpret the review.
The bottom line
The purpose of this podcast is to make you think twice when you read these online physician reviews. There will never be 20 real reviews in a row with a one-star rating for any physicians. They would be out of business!
Clearly, these physicians have been in practice for years, so there are hundreds of patients who appreciate their work but are too busy living their lives to write reviews for you to read.
I believe that simply looking at the total rating score alone is not a valid way to use online physician reviews. I hope at some point somebody is going to do something about this.
There are more and more physicians on social media trying to give patients some real information. Everyone should decide for themselves how to interpret blogs shared by a physician versus a blog shared by someone with a testimonial about their experience. Both can be valid but have a different weight to them.
If physicians continue to have their reputations destroyed, they may stop sharing valuable information. And this will cause everyone to lose.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post!