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Healthcare Reviews Part One: How to Read them

January 14, 2020

With most Americans happily spending increasing amounts of time on their smartphone (in fact, we know that 42% of our readers are reading this on their phones), it’s no surprise that each year sees a rise in people finding doctors based on word of mouth and online reviews.

In fact, our own National Consumer Study found that 53% of people felt that ratings and comments were “very important” in their selection of a doctor, with another 44% feeling they’re “somewhat important,” an altogether 97% of potential patients looking to the internet for recommendations! As a proud Level 6 Google Local Guide, I’m a big fan of reading and writing online reviews. After all, they’re a great way to get an unbiased perspective on any local experience, from the zoo (5 stars, big fan) to the coffee shop up the street (4 stars, would drive another few blocks for my favorite blend), to my doctor (5 stars, of course!).

While I happily review and recommend physicians based on my experiences, I do so much more cautiously than with other experiences. Of course, I see the inherent value in star ratings and reviews—I nearly always read them before seeing a new primary care physician. However, reading physician reviews is a very different experience than reading restaurant reviews, and writing them is even trickier. This two-part series will walk you through the nuances of reading and creating healthcare reviews which are helpful for everyone involved.

The best place to start when reading online reviews is often a hospital network’s own find a doctor tool. This is because these comments are typically aggregated by professional research organizations (like PRC!) to ensure accuracy (the reviewer was indeed a patient), professionalism (inappropriate language is often filtered out), and helpfulness (comments are typically more in-depth than just “it was good”).

However, if you decide to dive into third party review sites, keep the following tips in mind for smart reading:

4 Keys to Reading Healthcare Reviews

1) Start suspicious. Even though you always write your reviews with the best of intentions, not everyone is as pure of heart. Too often, exaggerated negative reviews posted on third party sites are inspired not by poor medical care, but by patients who are angry that they did not receive prescriptions for narcotics or other substances of abuse, that their bill is too high, or over the natural loss of a loved one. Many of these reviewers are anonymous and drawn to the site for its ease of reviewing, not reputation, so erring on the side of suspicion can never hurt, especially when the reviewer seems unusually irate.

2) Stay suspicious. Just as an incredibly negative review might come from a vengeful place, a gushing review may have been posted by a physician’s friend or family member. Physicians are well aware of the competitive nature of online reviews, so a few may try to tip the scales in their favor by asking loved ones to post positive, anonymous reviews.

3) The devil is in the details. Have you ever heard that liars tend to get caught when they nervously add too many details to try and seem authentic? The best way to tell if a reviewer is sincere is by looking for moderate amount of details. There’s nothing helpful about a simple “was late,” but at the same time, there’s something suspicious about “when the nurse called me back at 11:03 for my 11:00 appointment about my left inner ear pain last Wednesday I knew I was in for the WORST DAY EVER.” Look for reviews which can succinctly explain what they did and did not enjoy about the experience; these are more likely written by actual patients.

4) Read intentionally. Until unicorns become real, grow thumbs, and obtain medical degrees, there’s no such thing as the perfect doctor. Instead, read online physician reviews with purpose and intention, looking for information that will help you find the qualities you most value in a physician. Each medical situation is different, and you may have different needs depending on what you’re looking for. For example, when looking for a pediatrician, you may prefer someone with short wait times and great bedside manner and be willing to sacrifice a prestigious degree. However, you may feel differently about a specialist or a surgeon and will want to conduct research accordingly.

All in all, doing research before seeing a new physician is never a bad idea. But research is only as useful as the deliberation behind it, so read carefully and between the lines to be sure you don’t skip over a great physician who won’t support an opioid habit, or fall for a not-so-great physician who knows how to leverage social media.

If you’re excited to write your own stellar reviews, be sure to check out part two of this series, coming in February!