In a world increasingly dominated by social media, doctors are becoming more concerned about managing their online reputations. Some doctors have even resorted to making their patients sign a gag order before treatment. Despite all the controversy, medical professionals need not fear online reviews: sites like Yahoo! Local and Insider Pages show that the majority of patients rate their doctors 5 out of 5.
At DocSpot, we help patients search across hundreds of different websites to find a doctor who meets their individual needs (for example if they need a primary care doctor who specializes in managing diabetes, or an experienced psychiatrist who accepts Aetna).
Occasionally, we’ll get providers writing in to have their profiles hidden from public view solely because they never want to be rated. Their concerns piqued our curiosity about the review ecosystem, prompting us to ask, “Are online reviews really that negative?” After analyzing about a quarter million reviews, we found that, despite their bad rap, the majority of online patient reviews are favorable towards their doctors. You can see the detailed results in this infographic. Below are some of the most interesting highlights.
Sixty-five percent of the reviews that we analyzed gave the health care professional the highest rating possible, and 3 out of 4 reviews rated the doctor positively (either a 4 or 5 on a 5 point scale). This finding is surprising since the common wisdom is that only the truly irate bother to fill out online reviews, followed by the sliver of ecstatically pleased customers.
Rather than asking patients to sign a gag order, perhaps doctors should be asking their patients to fill out online reviews — chances are, they’ll get top marks.
Our analysis delved further into the content of the reviews. It turns out that it’s not all about the medical outcomes: the physician’s staff and the office each warranted a mention in over 20% of the reviews. Unsurprisingly, people commonly complained about rudeness, billing hassles, and long wait times. Regardless of how much people value medical expertise, customer service is still important.
By examining recurring phrases in the reviews and correlating the data with specialties, we were able to make some other interesting observations. Cardiologists, for example, were repeatedly credited for saving their patients’ lives and oncologists were frequently described as compassionate. Chiropractors, for all the flak that they get from physicians, received the highest average rating (4.61 out of 5) of all health care specialists, while endocrinologists got the lowest rating (a mildly positive 3.56 out of 5 — maybe the patients didn’t like to be repeatedly told to modify their diets).
Despite the glacial pace at which the health care industry can seem to adopt technology (are we really just now talking about cloud-based electronic health records?), online patient reviews are a mainstay of how patients select which doctors to go to — one out of four Americans turn to the internet for physician quality information. While online reviews can either be positive or negative for any individual doctor, our analysis shows that most online patient reviews are favorable. A health care provider’s business is likely to benefit from cultivating patient reviews rather than ignoring or suppressing them (the equivalent of hiding one’s head in the sand and hoping for the best).
Footnote: Yes, there have been other studies showing that online reviews tend to be positive. Here’s one that examined 4,999 reviews, and here’s another that examined 190 reviews. We wanted a broader survey that considered how reviews differed across specialties, so we analyzed 248,978 reviews.
Jerry Lin is the founder of DocSpot, a company which strives to provide a comprehensive online provider directory where patients can easily look for doctors that suit their individual needs, and where providers can ensure that the right patients find them.