Americans are information-hungry and, thanks to the Internet, there’s plenty of data to be found – especially when it comes to healthcare. According to the Pew Research Center, over 70 percent of people look for healthcare information on the web. Moreover, 77 percent of consumers admit they use the Internet at the outset of their search for a new healthcare provider.
The problem, of course, is that not everything we read online is factual. In fact, with the exception of mainstream media such as the The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, information online is often skewed. It’s called “marketing,” and it’s often onesided and not 100 percent reliable.
A study completed by Invespro truly underscores the importance of reviews, as well as the impact negative reviews can have on a doctor or healthcare practice.
• Positive reviews make a practice seem more trustworthy, according to 72 percent of patients surveyed.
• If a local doctor has a five-star rating, they are going to earn more patients; 92 percent of people surveyed said that “stars” are a determining factor in choosing a physician.
• Before even trusting a healthcare professional, the vast majority of patients (who read reviews) said they read at least four online reviews.
It’s easy to understand why bogus reviews present a huge challenge for physicians, hospitals and healthcare practices around the country. It’s so easy for anyone to post a review, but there’s no way to know if it’s bogus, or unfair. Further, there are companies out there that permit people to “buy” reviews – good for themselves or bad for a competitor – which truly makes the entire concept of online reviews unpredictable and practically a waste of time.
Unfortunately, this isn’t stopping disgruntled patients from writing doctor reviews. In most cases, reviews posted on Healthgrades or Yelp, and other sites can’t even be responded to or refuted by the healthcare professional or practice (due to privacy laws.)
Bogus Complaints Send the Wrong Message
Consider a story about a woman who was very clearly addicted to pain medication. According to the director of a major New Jersey healthcare practice, she came to the office complaining of pain and requesting pain medication. “She was refused pain meds due to her obvious prescription abuse history,” he said. “However, she took the opportunity to write a review about our practice. She wrote that no one here cared about her pain. She clearly misrepresented the facts.”
Due to HIPAA laws, the practice is unable to respond to “bogus” complaints like that, leaving healthcare practices helpless to refute bad information. “People read these kinds of one-sided, unfair reviews and make a decision that the practice is not compassionate,” he added.
In another case, a patient showed up at a specialist’s office without a referral from his primary care physician. The paperwork snafu caused an extended stay in the waiting room which obviously angered the patient. He wrote a review of the practice complaining about the horrible wait time. A review like this is biased and unfair and is not truly representative of the practice.
According to a report printed in JAMA, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, “commercial physicianrating websites have significant limitations.”
While the number of physician reviews online are increasing, the reviews observed by the study were not meaningful. “It is difficult for a prospective patient to find (for any given physician on any commercial physician-rating website) a quantity of reviews that would accurately relay the experience of care with that physician,” according to JAMA.
NJ Healthcare Practices Seriously Injured by Bogus Online Reviews
Moazam Gazi, administrator for University Urology Associates of NJ, says bogus online reviews are a problem faced by most, if not all, healthcare practices. Unless a practice is large enough to have a team of people monitoring social media and online review sites, doctors and healthcare practices face substantial risk to their public image, Mr. Gazi said.
“The conversations on these review boards are almost exclusively one-sided due to HIPAA laws. People feel that it’s a place to vent and discuss their personal care,” he explained. “But it doesn’t give a physician or practice the ability to respond in kind due ethical considerations. Additionally, practices are often very negatively affected by bogus reviews stemming from insurance issues like copays that have nothing to do with quality of medical care.
“Bottom line”, Gazi added, “people should be careful about where they go for their reviews.”
“Taking Reviews with a Grain of Salt”
Many people interviewed said they regularly look at reviews when considering a healthcare professional for their own, or their family’s, care. But suspicions abound.
“I read reviews but I take them with a grain of salt because of the bad experiences I’ve have with docs who were given rave reviews. I do admit, though, that I am more influenced by negative reviews compared to 100% glowing reviews.” — Sue M., Robbinsville
“I know the internet has trolls. It could be someone’s just posting negative comments to be mean. It could be the doc did make a medical mistake once, but is otherwise a great doc. It could be the doc aggravated the commenter in some realm other than medical, and the comment is a revenge posting.” — Jennie P., Hamilton
“I am usually suspect of every review and can’t help but wonder if they were planted. That’s just my suspicious nature. I do not to trust them nor do I base my choices on them.” — Nancy R., Howell
Many consumers look to friends and family for referrals when it comes to choosing a physician. Even so, they still admit to checking out online reviews before making a final decision about setting an appointment.
“I typically read online reviews after I’ve made my decision because I prefer to get a referral from someone I know,” said Jamie C. ff Allentown. “That being said, I know for a fact that people are much more likely to complain than they are to write a good review. So, one review – either way – I am suspect about who wrote it.”
Still others look to reviews for specific information. A negative review, in this case, could really impact a patient’s decision to see one physician over another.
“It’s difficult to ascertain the legitimacy of a review. It’s very subjective and there are so many factors that come into choosing a doctor. Bedside manner is important to me,” said Janis P. of Hopewell. “So if there was a review that said he doesn’t spend a lot of time or is gruff, couldn’t be bothered, that would definitely impact my decision.”
Bogus Reviews are Bad for Consumers and Bad for Business. Period.
“Bad online ratings can wreak havoc on doctors’ businesses, in extreme cases driving physicians to leave a particular state to practice elsewhere,” according to research published in The Wall Street Journal. “Ratings sites will take down reviews that use profanity, but they typically won’t edit or remove a review simply because a doctor (or any business) disputes what is in it.”
Further, while an electrician or an eatery can just close and change the business name and reopen, physicians can’t do that. Once their reputation is damaged, it’s a done deal.
In fact, “one negative review can cost you almost 30 new patients, and nearly 80 percent of patients will change their mind about a practice after reading a bad review,” according to the Invespro study.
“Unfortunately, it’s hard to find reliable, easy-to-understand information about specific doctors or practices,” Doris Peter, Ph.D., director of the said. “Sure, you can check out physician reviews on sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List, but do you really want to find a doctor the same way you do a restaurant or plumber? Probably not.”
So – What is the solution?
Patients should seek in-depth information regarding the physician, their practice and their philosophy. One site dedicated to bringing deeper information to consumers is HumanizeMD (www.humanizemd.com). Compatibility with your physician enhances communication, and good information flow between doctor and patient leads to better outcomes.
Hyper local, and focused initially in Central New Jersey, HumanizeMD is the first informational website that helps you get to know more about a doctor as a person before making one of your most important healthcare decisions.
By Bari Faye Siegel