On Online Reviews

Mar, 2020

We recently were hit with a negative online review and could not identify the patient. Usually you can identify the patient giving a review even though these evaluations are unfortunately anonymous. According to a University of Maryland study in 2019 about 8% of physician reviews are fake. Who would bother to file a fake review? A competitor? A malicious actor? More on that later.

As internet pioneer Jaron Lanier points out in his book Who Owns the Future, all rating sites eventually become corrupted as all sides game the system. For example, my wife and I used to use Trip Advisor to help us find hotels and restaurants; the site is now worthless and we do not use it. There are tech companies that offer to work the internet for physicians. One technique they offer is shaping your reviews, so the tech company will solicit responses from all of your patients and then publish the positive evaluations, deleting the rest. Such gaming makes me wonder if one of these tech companies that are soliciting our business planted the fake review we received. Paranoid? Welcome to the Brave New World.

Complaints and even negative reviews can be helpful in exposing problems and flaws in performance, but unlike complaints to the office manager, a negative review is problematic for several reasons. First, we cannot respond in detail without violating the HIPAA privacy law. Second, the review is permanent, and even if it is demonstrably fake, it is difficult to have it removed. Third, since the reviewer is supposedly anonymous but usually known, it affects the doctor-patient relationship.
To date we have not participated in internet gaming, but now the majority of patients begin their search for a new doctor online. This percentage will only increase as the younger generations appear not to understand Jaron Lanier’s point and actually believe what they read on the web. The truth is that in the Wild Wild West of the current internet we are back to caveat emptor (buyer beware). So far, every month we gain more patients despite ever greater competition from the local hospital systems. Hopefully that will continue so we do not have to participate in the Great Game.

– Gary Gallo, MD