Some docs start to get the hang of online reviews

Doctors Check Online Ratings and Make Some Changes in the Wall Street Journal starts out like many articles on the topic: by giving physicians the opportunity to vent about the evils of online reviews. We hear docs complain that reviews can be unrepresentative, that drug-seeking patients who are denied Vicodin write spiteful things, and that doctors sometimes have to give difficult news that patients don’t like. Oftentimes this feedback from doctors is merely hypothetical and provides evidence that they don’t actually go online and look at the reviews.

But this article is better than many, and it goes on to report that most physicians reviews are actually positive and that the reviews are reasonably well correlated with objective quality measures.

I also sense from this article a turn for the better in the evolution of online reviews and physicians’ reactions to them. One practice monitors the web daily for new reviews, responds to negative ones, and encourages those with issues to contact the office. Another physician looks to the reviews for constructive feedback –for example he is trying to lift his head up from the computer screen and make better eye contact.

Patients are paying attention to more than just the content of individual reviews, and physician practices would be wise to take notice. One 50 year old patient says that he is suspicious of physicians with no online reviews. “If no one is reviewing them… then I don’t feel like they are keeping up with the times, which says something about them,” he told the Journal.

Discerning patients also pay attention to whether and how the practice responds to online reviews. My sense is that patients are willing to give doctors the benefit of the doubt if they acknowledge issues and respond in a courteous manner.

Interestingly, some physician practices seem to be taking a page from the old car dealer playbook, by actively trying to influence the reviews they get. Remember when dealers used to provide a free oil change to patients who brought in their blank customer satisfaction survey? Doctors aren’t going quite that far but they are handpicking satisfied patients and encouraging them to participate.

As online reviews become more common and more important, what’s needed is a trusted third-party to make sure the reviews are representative and insightful. Commercial vendors like Vitals, RatedMDs and Healthgrades do a decent job, but there’s also a role for non-profit initiatives like the DOCTOR Project that apply rigorous approaches to provide the best information possible.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group


May 20, 2014

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