Do not take online physician reviews at face value

My friend and practice advisor showed me two very negative anonymous reviews of my practice this week. Both were posted within a one-month winter period and were written about family members. They were not written by patients.

My staff and I tried diligently to identify the stated situations as they did not resonate with any of us. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. That frustrates each of us.

Combined, these reviews were aggressive and unflattering. They mentioned my age, ego and seemingly lack of compassion. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by them. I truly wish I could talk to those anonymous authors to learn their point of view and find out why they are so angry. I’d sincerely apologize to them if I did anything to cross a line.

At the end of the day, I like to look myself in the mirror and know that I have done the best I can for each of my patients. I am very passionate about my profession, care immensely about the well-being of each patient and believe in evidence-based medicine – not fads and or snake oil. I also hold true to my practice’s slogan: access, advocacy, compassion, and prevention.

I spend a great deal of time in face to face meetings with my patients. I return all phone calls, call regarding all test and lab results and; usually I am aware when a patient is unhappy or dissatisfied. If I am not aware, my office supervisor or staff know it and bring it to my attention so I can discuss the reason and clear the air or rectify the problem.

If quoting the medical literature to patients to explain a point of view, plus relying on years of experience, is being full of myself; I guess I am guilty. If I do not respect the wishes of the family when the patient is fully competent to make decisions and is still the legal health care decision maker, then I am guilty as well.

When a patient chooses to leave my practice, I make it a point to send them an individual handwritten note. I apologize for not meeting their needs and expectations and ask them to please let me know their grievances for the sake of improving the care and service and not repeating actions which a patient found to be negative. I ask “why” they left and if I did something that I should not have done, or did not do something that I should have done. After writing these notes, I have my office staff review them to make sure the tone and content are caring, inquisitive, and appropriate. Unfortunately, no one ever responds.

My friend, the practice advisor, felt it was important to identify these situations and try to further identify the author of each review. He recommended, and I wholeheartedly agreed, it would be important to have a conversation with each of them to gain a better understanding of the situation, apologize and make any appropriate practice changes.

Since my staff and I are not able to put the pieces of these puzzles together, I am at a loss for identifying the authors. Furthermore, these online sites do not typically allow a physician to confirm the author was, in fact, a patient and then respond to their review.

That’s a problem since 80 percent of patients who are seeking a new physician search online. My advisor has shared with me countless examples of negative physician reviews where there was nothing to indicate the author had ever even been a patient of the practice.

A few years ago I experienced that myself on Angie’s List. Fortunately, I was able to track down and contact the author, and they admitted they and their spouse had never been my patients. It was an error on their part which reflected poorly on me. It took time and effort, but we were eventually able to have the review removed. That rarely happens.

If you are a patient who feels you have a gripe with your doctor, I urge you to call that physician or write that doctor and express your concerns and give them a chance to respond. Do that even if you wish to move on. It’s the only way a practice and doctor can improve. We really do care.

And, if you are seeking a new physician, do not take online reviews at face value. Gather as much information about the physician as possible and ask if you can have a short meeting with the doctor before making your choice. That’s something that’s something I make available at my practice for anyone interested in concierge medicine.

Steven Reznick is an internal medicine physician and can be reached at Boca Raton Concierge Doctor.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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