Providers should think seriously about leveraging online reviews

In 2012, tension over online doctor reviews ran high. As the New York Times reported, physicians were turning to third-party reputation management firms who used legal threats to silence critical patients on the web. Information freedom non-profits and tech media outlets responded with investigations and an FTC complaint.

As a former practitioner, I sympathize with some doctors’ apprehension about online reviews; the desire to protect oneself from unfair or unwarranted criticism is all-too relatable. But patients have a right to talk about their experiences. Censorship also doesn’t work, especially in the age of the internet. Gag orders will not silence angry patients. Those patients will simply find ways to air their opinions anonymously, regardless of whether their grievances are legitimate.

And other patients will listen. According to Nielsen’s 2011 Global Trust in Advertising Survey, 70 percent of global consumers trust online reviews, making them the second-most trusted form of advertising. In a recent survey conducted by Search Engine Land, 72 percent of consumers said they give the same weight to online reviews that they do to personal recommendations. In other words, consumers rely heavily on online resources to make purchasing decisions – and healthcare consumers are no different.

The significance of this trend has not been lost on policymakers and other healthcare architects, who are working quickly to advance pay-for-performance healthcare models. Patient satisfaction, as measured through ratings and reviews, will soon be tied to compensation for employed doctors. In the independent setting, online reviews already affect income directly to the extent that potential new patients are attracted or repelled.

For patients to broadcast their opinions to the world – impacting physicians’ reputations and their wallets – is a major change, and perhaps alarming. But I believe that healthcare providers should actively support reviews for reasons beyond transparency and future-preparedness: reviews are meaningful and empowering for patients, and can be a valuable business driver.

As noted above, the majority of consumers give the same degree of credence to online reviews that they do to word of mouth. Consider for a moment this extraordinary development. The commentary of strangers online has become as important as the opinions of our friends, families, and colleagues. This is clearly an indicator of the public’s growing trust in the quality of information on the web. And there is every reason to believe the trend will continue, and that online reviews will soon eclipse word of mouth in their importance for patients.

Perhaps more than any other fact, this should convince providers to think seriously about leveraging online reviews. Preparing for the healthcare system’s inevitable drive toward transparency is not just a way for doctors to better serve their patients. It is a potential driver of new business that providers can use to remain viable and competitive in a shifting landscape.

“Win-win-win” solutions – which benefit practices, patients, and the healthcare system alike – are quite rare. When we find these treatments, we should implement them quickly, confidently, and without regret. This is the essence of good medicine.

Oliver Kharraz is chief operating officer and founder, ZocDoc.

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  • drd

    I really don’t care about online reviews. If people are so ignorant they trust a review of a stranger with their health then that is their prerogative. The fundamental reason people are searching online is because there is a serious problem with the healthcare delivery system not so much any particular physician. And it can be very difficult to good help. Solving that problem would require a whole lot more than a search engine could provide.

    • Suzi Q 38

      It is not a matter of trusting a review of a stranger.
      Say I need a gyn/oncologist. The teaching hospital assigns me a doctor. I don’t know who he or she is, so I look him or her up on the internet. If there are several negative posts from various patients, I may call the hospital back and try a different doctor.
      I think that every doctor should type his or her name in on the internet and see what is there.
      I can see where business can be lost.
      Never before could you spread the word this quickly.

      • tab

        It would be great if for each doctor there were 500+ reviews. When there are 5 reviews, you don’t have anything useful. More data, and you can see where the outliers are. When reading reviews on, say Amazon, it is good to read the best reviews AND the worst ones. Both might be true. Some might be by clueless people, but those tend to be easy to spot.

        As a lifelong fat person, I would LOVE to find the reviews of other fat patients, as 90% of doctors I have ever met treat fat people as sub-human scum, unworthy of their time. If I could avoid the wasted visits, where the doctors do not listen to or attempt to treat my symptoms, that would be great. Including the one who couldn’t stop laughing the rest of the visit when I said I came in because of abdominal pain (“I mean..(giggle), LOOK AT YOU, of COURSE you’re going to be (gasp) in pain with what you must EAT ALL THE TIME! (hahahaha) LOOK AT YOU!!!”) I end up having to go to another doctor afterwards, wasting money and time. Same for anyone who finds themselves badly treated by doctors, whether they are LGTB, racial minority, shy, disfigured, stutter, etc. I would love to know about any hyper-religious doctors who would try to force their religion on me, or deny me care based on their beliefs and biases. Or politics. I would also love to leave a review for the doctor who let me schedule an appointment for 8 am, but didn’t show up at her office until 9:30, at which time she spent about 40 minutes more meeting with drug reps before seeing her 8 am patient over 2 hours late. Her office staff let me know, laughing, that this happens every day. I would love to read the “glowing reviews” of the quack who believes massive amounts of supplements that he just happens to sell will cure every ill, and realize the doctor described is not the one for me. And know which pediatricians are telling their patients vaccines aren’t really necessary. I would love to know which orthopedic doctor will try conservative treatment first, and which will insist surgery is ALWAYS the only answer. There is a lot more than “good and bad”.

        • tab

          I should have said also, that I would love to leave several glowing reviews also, of the doctors who found what others missed, who were extremely diligent, who pursued a diagnosis when it wasn’t easy, who BELIEVED me. The ones who, when I said I didn’t want to follow the course of treatment they outlined, asked me why, made sure I understood the risks, then helped me pursue the treatment the way I wanted. The ones who are never rushed, even when I know they have so much to do.

          I hate so much that when I go to find a new doctor, I get a list of names, and all I can really learn about them is their age, gender, what they look like, and where they went to school.

          • Suzi Q 38

            I try to do this whenever i have the time. If I can say something positive, why not?
            Ironically, I have tried to do this for a hair stylist, and Yelp would not publish it. They thought that I was a relative of the person I wrote about.
            I think they like owner of the company or person reviewed to advertise or they will not publish all of the positive posts.
            Yes, it is easy to write a negative post about a physician when I am angry or not happy.
            I had to stop myself and hit the “delete” button. Why?
            I realized that a physician may lose business or negatively affect a reputation based on my personal experience.
            I always try to give myself time to calm down, be nicer about what I write.

            You not only can find a list of names, their age, gender, what they look like, and where they went to school, but you can find published papers, medical presentations, the different offices and cities that they have worked for the last 10 years, and patient evaluations of them that are public record on the internet.
            Patient sometimes say very positive things about doctors. They at times say negative things.

            Yes, it would be nice to get 500, but I wouldn’t read 500, and there aren’t 500. That would be a “perfect world” scenario. That would be fair.
            Unfortunately life isn’t fair.

  • 2EyesWideOpen2 is my go to. I don’t care what anybody says. If more physicians gave a hoot about reviews, then they would practice like they were treating their own children or loved one.

  • Simon Sikorski MD

    Online Ratings are a scam. Did you know that many of the physician ratings companies are blackmailing doctors with bad reviews to get them to pay for ads on the same sites?

    The only ratings that do make sense are those deduced from patients’ interactions on social media, especially Facebook. The biggest reason: People can’t hide behind “Anonymous” reviews.

    Think about it… who is the “Anonymous” or “John D” reviewer? Is anyone checking whether those are actual people/patients? Could it be the doctor himself? Could it be a competitor trying to get rid of competition? Could it be the company?

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