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How Reliable are Physician Online Reviews?

Online reviews have become the basis of how many people make decisions. They look to reviews to decide what restaurant they want to go to, if a movie is worth seeing, and what doctor to choose. But are online reviews the best method to make decisions, especially when it comes to deciding on a physician? With anyone being able to post reviews online, no way to determine what factors lead to the review and whether or not they are reputable, online reviews may not be the best way to determine if a doctor is right for you.

Physician online reviews are commonly found to be unreliable due to a few factors:

  • Extremes. Individuals are more likely to take the time to post a review if they are on one end of the spectrum, either extremely satisfied or extremely dissatisfied with their experience. With only the extremes being represented in reviews, potential patients do not get to see the overall experience that the majority of patients have.
  • Things beyond doctors' control. In the April issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a study was published finding that online reviews are more likely to be based on staff friendliness and appointment times, items out of the doctor’s control. A patient may not like the office environment, or a particular staff member’s attitude, nothing to do with the doctor’s abilities, but a negative review can ruin that doctor’s reputation even if they are completely competent.
  • Legitimacy. Review sites do not vet reviews for legitimacy. Anyone has the ability to post an online review whether or not they have seen the physician or even stepped foot within their office. This means someone who has a personal vendetta can ‘bad mouth’ a doctor to steer potential patients away, or on the opposite end of the spectrum a personal friend who wants to help can post raving reviews to try to sway others into scheduling appointments. Without a vetting process patients may also mistakenly leave a review for the incorrect doctor, tarnishing or aiding a doctor’s reputation they did not see or have any experience with. There is no way to determine the authenticity of an online review to know if you can base your physician decision on them.
  • Rebuttal Inability. Due to HIPAA regulations doctors are unable to dispute reviews they know are inaccurate, or are not a good representation of who they are as a physician. This means false accusations can be made but doctors are left unable to fight back so you are left only seeing one point of view, one that may not be fully accurate.

Online reviews for physicians may contain inaccurate information, one point of view, and items that have nothing to do with the competency of the doctor you are looking up. There are many factors that make a good physician and while online reviews are convenient, they may not be the most reliable representation to support your physician decision.