Google+ Local physician reviews: A barrier for patients

Google’s made big changes recently. Google Maps and Google Places are being replaced by Google+ Local.

While Google+ Local will likely advance the review system for many industries- doctor reviews, however, will grind to a halt. Unless Google recognizes the considerable onus of HIPAA on today’s healthcare professionals, and subsequently carves out a healthcare-friendly mechanism for doctor reviews, expect that far fewer patients will post; the posts will generally read like sterile testimonials, and doctors will lose their capacity to respond to patient feedback.

In an attempt to tackle the challenge of increasing the “authenticity” of reviews, Google revoked the ability to post reviews anonymously — even pseudonymously. Going forward, if you want to post a review, you must use your real name. No nicknames. No first names only. No exceptions.

For most businesses, this seems like a positive step forward. Anyone with an axe to grind can slam businesses online – particularly if they can easily hide behind the veil of anonymity. This includes competitors, disgruntled employees, or ex-spouses. Further, businesses will not be able to post fake reviews about how wonderful they are.

For restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, this is welcome news. Google+ Local provides a high-interaction, personalized social experience … what’s not to love?

For healthcare, it’s not so welcome. Here’s why:

Patients are most candid when their privacy is respected. Less than 5% of patients give their name, whether the feedback is raving good or horribly bad. The vast majority instead use either a pseudonym or initials.

With Google+ Local, anyone posting a review must use their full, printed name … publicly. Here’s a sampling of what some of these reviews might say.

Dr. X. did an excellent job with my facelift. My friends think I look a few years younger, but, no-one knows why. I just told them I started an exercise program and lost a few pounds.

Dr. Y. was a lifesaver when I was seriously considering taking my life. He put me on the right medication for what I now understand is Bipolar Disorder Type I. I didn’t realize how close I was to the point of no return.

Would doctors really ask patients to post reviews at the expense of their privacy? Would informed patients really comply? The answer to both questions is a resounding no. Patients demand privacy for healthcare matters for a many reasons. And, despite warnings that privacy is history, for healthcare it’s not.

If a patient posts an anonymous review, the doctor has considerable latitude to respond. Both the patient and the public benefit from a thoughtful response to a patient’s concern. But once a person’s name is attached to a post, HIPAA precludes a doctor from even acknowledging that the poster was a patient.

At a time when countless billions are spent each year toward facilitating communication between business and customer, employer and employee, doctor and patient, and even between friends and family, Google + Local certainly appears to be a move in the right direction. That is, for all industries except for healthcare.

Jeffrey Segal is founder and CEO of Medical Justice and eMerit

View 6 Comments >

Most Popular