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

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  • portia chalifoux

    One tool I haven’t seen mentioned around physician reviews is a website-based physician directed response/QI tool. Do any physicians/office-based practices have patient feedback groups? Do any offer real time QI updates via a newsletter or interactive format? Do any poll their patients and prospective patients/families for desired services and tools?

    I’d respond very favorably to a physician or practice that had a feedback/QI tool prominently displayed on its website. Could be headlined: How are we doing? What are we doing right? What could we improve to help you manage your health? When you left the office, did you have the knowledge and resources you needed to follow your medical plan? etc.

    Is this possible given reimbursement regs: hosting a cash only scheduled health classes restricted to current patients and their sig others which addresses practice chosen high volume, high cost, complex patient management problems, such as metabolic syndrome, DM II, COPD, obesity with malnutrition (nutrient poor/calorie dense eating patterns), degenerative joint disorders, etc. The physician could benefit by increasing time spent on direct patient/family management, patients/families benefit with clinical supervision and peer support, and results can be measured: use of ERs, # unscheduled office visits, unsched hospital admissions, clinical course, etc.

  • Dike Drummond MD

    Dr. Segal … thanks for the post AND whether you like it or think it is appropriate … doctors already get evaluated on dozens of other doctor specific sites. This is just one more that is much more visible. This falls into the realm of “online reputation management”. Here’s what I mean.

    The disgruntled patient is MUCH more likely to comment online than the satisfied one. Doctors might consider encouraging patients to comment about positive interactions on this site. If you made a difference or had a great visit … give them a handout telling them how to put a comment on Google+ Local. Otherwise the only comments about you will be the ones that make you shake your head.

    My Two Cents,

    Dike Drummond MD

    • portia chalifoux

      Got a cite or two for this statement? ”
      The disgruntled patient is MUCH more likely to comment online than the satisfied one. “

  • virtualCableTV

    portia, MDs are servants of the fascist AMA and as such serve the fascist policies that come from that corrupt organization.

    What you ask for was attempted in the early 90s and the AMA had it all shut down as soon as it appeared and whenever any new serious effort tries again the AMA shuts that down too.
    Yes, there is something to be said about the side effects caused by the so-called “disgruntled” patient but that said, the “evaluations” that are being allowed are not credible as they are prevented from acquiring and disclosing any facts by those that serve the AMA which has allowed the “disgruntled patient” argument to be used to stifle all progress towards disclosure of the worst of the worst MDs that are destroying the health and lives of millions of people every day.

    When it is said that death by doctor is the leading cause of death in America this is apparently not hyperbole.

  • Scott Scowcroft

    Notes from a recent Brian Solis webinar: “The Connected Consumer shares, communicates and connects differently than traditional consumers. They look to peers for impressions/experiences, decide based on relevant content;
    and make their decisions with or without your input. What the Connected Generation (Gen C) values, how they learn (about you),
    make decisions (in your favor) and become a loyal advocate (for you) is
    different. To support their difference in behavior, you must adapt your
    strategies, programs, infrastructure, culture and service. Simply applying the
    same old customer service to social media won’t work. Its a mismatch.”
    Do the HIPAA unfriendly changes Google just put into play hinder your ability to engage with Generation C, or is it a wash because all doctors are in the same boat? I don’t know.

  • Michael Allen

    once a person’s name is attached to a post, HIPAA precludes a doctor from even acknowledging that the poster was a patient” – HIPAA is intended to safeguard patient privacy. If a patient voluntarily acknowledges that they were a patient, there should be nothing barring a physician from responding with a standard HIPAA compliant statement. The statement could be crafted to state that we are acknowledging our responsibility to support privacy and make every effort to provide superior healthcare and satisfy patients. We would be happy to have you call our office with any further concerns. The point is to respond and show that you don’t ignore which will carry tremendous weight with patients reading the reviews. There is also no reason that a physician can’t suggest reviews be left by patients that are satisfied. It will be of value to direct patients where they are most comfortable. If they are comfortable leaving a full name then G+ may be appropriate, if not then direct patients to sites that allow anonymity. Google may not show ratings from other sites, but they still integrate the reviews like Zagat. Of course this is Google so give it a day and that will all be upside down! Good article. Thanks!

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