Should Physicians Care About Online Medical Reviews?

online physician reviews

They are posted on websites with names like “Vitals,” “Zocdoc” and “” They present content written by anonymous individuals who may or may not have any true knowledge about the topics on which they write. And they are widely read by patients across the country and likely in your hometown as well. 

They are online physician reviews–and they may affect both your reputation and livelihood. 

But, should you care about them? 

That’s the question physicians across the country have been asking themselves lately. As with anything related to the internet, the answer depends on an array of variables: Who’s writing the reviews? How credible are they? Is anyone actually reading them? 

At the end of the day, physicians probably shouldn’t care too much about online reviews. Here’s why:

Most patients aren’t reading them
Everyone is online these days–and they’re online nearly all the time. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made it easier than ever for people to find nearly immediate information about nearly anything. 

Thankfully, most people aren’t searching for online medical reviews. 

According to a 2014 study published in JAMA, fewer than one-fifth of people surveyed have used the internet to search for online medical reviews. People will look for movie and restaurant reviews, but when it comes to seeking out information about their physicians, most don’t look for online reviews. 

Most patients are skeptical of online reviews
It’s a fact: Online medical reviews are largely unreliable. Physicians know it. Studies have said as much. And the public is largely aware of it, too. 

Most internet users are savvy enough to understand that most people are entirely unqualified to accurately rate the quality of care they are receiving from their doctors. They understand that a lot of people use online reviews as a way to punish people who don’t give them the service they think they deserve–whether they feel wronged by a slow waitress or a doctor who won’t prescribe antibiotics for a virus. 

Sure, they’ll read the reviews, but what they’re looking for is information about bed-side mannerisms, cleanliness of the clinic and whether or not the reviewer had a good overall experience. But they won’t likely make a decision about a doctor’s overall medical expertise based on an online review. 

You can manipulate them
According to a paper published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website, the quality of online medical reviews doesn’t matter as much as the quantity. 

The paper explains that a randomized experiment found that, in general, patients had higher opinions of physicians who had more online reviews than they did about physicians with fewer online reviews. 

This demonstrates how little patients care about the actual content of the reviews–and how easy it would be for physicians to manipulate the reviews in their favor. If quantity matters more than quality, then the reviews are basically useless, and all doctors need to do to enhance and protect their reputations is encourage patients to write more reviews. 

And while the reviews apparently don’t even need to be positive, most patients who are writing reviews at your request will be inclined to write nice things about you. So manipulating the system works for physicians on both levels. 

So don’t sweat online medical reviews. They are a new reality for nearly every physician, but they are likely not worth a lot of worry because few patients are reading them, they are widely viewed as unreliable and you can easily manipulate them in your favor. 

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