Ep. 36: Why You Need to Understand the Online Physician Review Crisis
Today I want to talk about the process of reading an online physician review because it’s an extremely important topic. Many people use reviews to help decide the products or services to spend their money. However, it is not widely known that a physician review may not reflect what we think it does!
I have thought about sharing this information many times but now seems like the right time. Why? Because I recently had a patient call my office to talk to my office manager about scheduling an appointment. She sounded frustrated and said she was simply looking for a doctor to take care of her child who didn’t have awful online reviews. Seriously?
This brought up something that, deep down, I knew was true. But I wanted to ignore it because it is one more thing that will take time away from physicians. We already have incredible amounts of administrative work for insurance companies and hospitals. Now, we are being tasked with monitoring our online reputations?
This is truly a sad state of affairs. A fake or inaccurate online physician review can mislead the general public about the abilities of healthcare professionals! In another post, I share suggestions on how to best use these reviews.
Recently a physician attended a conference, and it was suggested that she search for herself online. Just for fun, she did it and was shocked by what she found. Check out her saga as she describes the horror of finding fake online reviews and the difficulty with getting them removed. There are countless other physicians with the same story.
Back in the day, online reviews only shared ratings of a product or service that you had direct experience with. You actually knew that the plumber was good or bad. You knew if he was on time or if the work was up to your expectations. It was an unwritten rule that you only evaluated businesses or people whose services you used.
Can you imagine if I left a review for a plumber and said he is a terrible person but he never worked for me? That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it??
You probably assume that people would only write an online physician review about someone who they have actually interacted with, correct? Well, unfortunately, this would be a wrong assumption. Now, people write an online physician review about someone who they do not know personally and have never met! It’s outrageous and important for you to understand.
Why would someone write a fake online physician review?
As social media has blossomed, there are increasing numbers of people writing about healthcare topics who have little to no education in the field. Consequently, more physicians have joined social media to share information based on science and experience.
I previously posted about some awesome social media physicians who voluntarily spend countless hours trying to share useful healthcare tips. These physician posts are an important way to offset the false, misleading or dangerous healthcare information flooding the internet.
But people get waaaaaay too emotional online! They are emboldened to act in ways they would never act in real life. They no longer show respect to people who have spent many years to become educated in their fields and have chosen to share their knowledge to help improve health. In fact, many people go online and write fake reviews of physicians simply because they do not agree on hotly debated topics.
A common reason many physicians get terrible reviews is that we believe in vaccinations as a way to improve global health. #VaccinesWork! However, the growing Anti-Vaccination movement has led to its followers aggressively attacking the credibility of physicians who present scientific proof which debunks their beliefs. Most of the time, these attacks are against physicians they have never met!
Every single day, there are instances of online cyberbullying of physicians with the intent of ruining their reputations because of differences of opinion about politics or other emotionally charged issues.
Suppose you met an electrician at a party and learned that he believes women should only stay at home to raise children. Of course, this is outrageous and could lead to rigorous debate! Women should make career decisions the same way men do. They get to decide what is best for them!
But would you go home, look for his place of business and write a review saying his professional work is awful? Would you call your friends and tell them to write terrible reviews to ruin his professional reputation? Would you try to make him get fired so he has no way to support his family? Of course not!
However, many online physician reviews occur because of a similar story. The awful reviews occur because of unrelated disagreements. You can and should choose to not use this person for yourself, but there is no reason to say he or she has poor professional skills.
We do not live in a Utopian world where we only associate with people who are exactly like us. Learning to have respectful dialogue and listen to the other side is beneficial to everyone. This should not end in name calling!
Why can’t physicians defend themselves from bad online reviews?
For online reviews from our actual patients, physicians are not allowed to defend our reputations with any comments because of federal regulations, called HIPAA. These laws limit how much we can share about our patients’ healthcare information.
If an actual patient makes a complaint that has a simple explanation, we cannot address it because we would need to acknowledge the medical issue exists, which violates HIPAA. In fact, just saying that someone is our patient is a HIPAA violation!
Patients can say whatever they want about their health and describe what they think we did or did not do. We must keep silent and let the one-sided attack stand. You know there are always two sides to a story, but the physician’s side is not heard. How does this help you to understand if this is a good physician or not?
So physicians have accepted that concerned or angry patients may leave bad online reviews. These situations are few and far between. However, the huge increase in fake reviews by non-patients has become absurd. And often when one fake physician review occurs, dozens of like-minded people will also attack. Suddenly there is a flurry of terrible reviews with a few days.
There is no way to respond to all of these organized attacks.
What comments should you look for to recognize a fake online physician review?
As you read online reviews, there are 4 common topics that often lead to a fake physician review. The intent is pure and simple: to destroy a physician’s credibility because of a difference of opinion. The attacks are vicious and swift, and you may notice many occurring on the same day. Please consider weeding out these comments because they will not help you to decide if the physician would be a competent practitioner to care for you or your family.
As previously mentioned, the anti-vaccination group of people aggressively targets physicians who advocate for vaccines to improve public health. Because of this movement, the United States is facing a progressively worsening crisis with the Measles outbreak that has the most cases reported since 1992! And we still have 6 months left in the current year.
A growing number of large Antivax Facebook groups adopted the practice of coordinating attacks on physicians who recommend vaccinations. You may choose to not vaccinate your child, but physicians should not be blasted for citing scientific evidence which supports vaccine effectiveness. These attacks are happening every day.
Professional reputation slashers (people who knowingly make fake reviews) sometimes are creative in their criticism to make it look true and valid. An Antivaxxer who has never interacted with the physician might post that you should beware of this physician who recommends treatments that are harmful to kids.
What if you read that? You would not know that this refers to vaccines. This fake physician review could easily mislead people and keep them from receiving excellent care from an outstanding practitioner.
2. Anti Gun Violence
As gun violence in the United States surges, physicians have become a growing voice calling for solutions to save innocent lives. In 2018, the National Rifle Association (NRA) took an aggressive stance as an attempt to silence physicians from speaking out on the issue.
It started with a condescending tweet telling physicians to stop talking about gun violence and to ‘stay in our lane”. There was an uproar by physicians who treat the injured and killed victims. In one voice, physicians everywhere declared: This is OUR lane!
In fact, there now exists a Twitter account dedicated to showcasing how medical professionals seek to find solutions for the injuries and deaths caused by firearms.
Gun violence is a public health crisis, and physicians do what we always do. We seek solutions that can save future lives. Within days of the NRA assault, physicians wrote blogs and appeared on TV interviews to share experiences and explain our position. I even penned my own post explaining how excellent healthcare occurs inside a physician’s lane!
The public debate was captured by countless news outlets internationally including NPR, Time Magazine, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
Gun advocates retaliated with online attacks of physicians’ credibility. And many of these fake online reviews remain available for you to read. They may mislead you into thinking a physician is not an excellent practitioner.
3. Pro Choice
Our country is harshly divided on the topic of a woman having the right to choose what healthcare decisions she needs to make. Normally, this is a privileged discussion between a woman and her physician. But a crisis is happening with increasing states passing laws that make the decision for women.
When you or your children are sick, you will need to seek care from an outstanding physician. But when you search and find a physician has bad online reviews, you may be wrongly assuming that the physician is not an excellent choice for your family.
When physicians speak out on social media, and their opinion differs from yours, that does not change their ability to professionally remove your child’s tonsils. It does not change an emergency room physician’s ability to treat illness or a radiologist from correctly reading your x-rays. We are professionals, and our training guides our work. This is what we need to be evaluated on.
4. Non-physician providers
Healthcare has dramatically changed over the past decade. Most people used to call their doctor’s office and make an appointment with a physician. This was the standard and the expected result. However, as the number of non-physician healthcare providers has increased, patients are confused about who is caring for them.
The term midlevel provider was initially used to describe healthcare providers who did not attend school to become physicians. However, since degrees at the Master and Doctorate levels are earned by these providers, they prefer to be called Advanced Practice Providers. I prefer to simply say, non-physician providers.
This group includes nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. It also includes physician assistants.
Initially, this group of healthcare providers was intended to assist physicians with the management of patients; however, there has been an increasing push to allow these providers to treat patients without any physician input or oversight. The debates have become heated and nursing organizations are now aggressively promoting on social media that their practitioners are equal to physicians.
Physician organizations have begun to push back. Many emergency rooms have non-physicians treating patients without oversight. One organization published a clear statement where they announced that all of their non-physician providers must have physician oversight.
This is not true at all hospitals and clinics; therefore, it is important that you always ask for the credentials of the person providing you care.
You have the right to choose your physician. If you don’t like me, you may choose another ENT surgeon in the city. The same should hold true for choosing to see a physician instead of a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Even with a few extra years of online training to earn a doctorate, thus gaining the right to be called a “doctor”, these providers are still non-physicians. Patients should always know who they are seeing.
However, when physicians point out that the practice of nursing is different from the practice of medicine, large nursing organizations encourage their members to target these physicians with negative online reviews. Why?
We are simply sharing that each member of the healthcare team has a role, but they are different roles. You should choose which one you need.
Repairing the damage caused by a fake online physician review can be difficult (and expensive)
Many of these fake reviews are causing people to assume a physician has a poor reputation, but this is often not true. There are increasing efforts to get physicians to monitor our online ratings. It can take a lot of work to overcome these vindictive reviews.
Sadly, it is almost expected that a fake physician review will be found; therefore, blog posts now exist to teach physicians how to handle the problem! Whaaaat?
Most online review sites will evaluate some of the reviews and possibly remove them. Nevertheless, physicians report that many of the damaging reviews are never removed. It has been recommended that physicians hire reputation management companies to monitor and maintain true online reviews. This can be expensive.
Why would physicians keep paying money to fix something and then anyone can add another fake review the next day? Sometimes the reviews are genuinely negative due to an unacceptable experience, but reading the actual comments is important.
I had a patient leave me a bad review BEFORE coming to my office. Never met me. Had trouble getting paperwork from the online portal and blasted my office and my staff.
After she arrived, she found out the error SHE was making with the login process! After her visit with me, she was happy and apologized. My manager asked her if she would revise her review. She said yes, of course. She did not. Why? Because no one thinks about writing a review unless they are unsatisfied or angry. There was no gain for her to fix it. But at least she was my patient!
How many times have you personally written a review for your favorite physician? Or even your favorite restaurant? Most of us never do. You must understand that the current online physician review crisis is due to a select group of people who choose to weaponize the internet.
Please think twice (or three times) before you use an online physician review to judge a highly trained, caring medical professional! A truly bad physician will not have a busy practice filled with longterm patients. And local physicians will not continue to send referrals once they get negative feedback from many patients. Ask your personal physician who they recommend. Trust your physician to refer you to another trusted physician!
Also, consider signing the petition to remove online physician reviews because they can be grossly misleading and do not have the ability to share balanced information. Do not let these reviews keep you from accessing an amazing physician.
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!
I am a psychiatrist who received a 1 star review from a person who has never seen me and never called my office. My practice is very small, and I use a HIPAA-compliant Premium Google Voice Auto Attendant to funnel messages. The auto attendant clearly states I am not accepting new patients until September, leave your name & number and you will be put on the waiting list and contacted in September.
This woman left her name, said she called and left messages 4 times and no one ever called her back. But no one by that name ever called at all! She left a scathing review, saying I obviously don’t care about people and should get a different career.
I think she may have been calling different practices and left a review on the wrong practice, as she never left even 1 message for me.
Yes, physicians have many stories like this. Many physicians and practices share similar names and mistakes can happen. Wrong numbers could be called. I hope there is some improvement in the way reviews can be challenged and removed.