Eric Van De Graaff, M.D., a cardiologist in Omaha, recently blogged about the value of all the physician ratings and review websites that are now appearing in online search results. Overall, Dr. Van De Graaf believes that rating sites could be beneficial to prospective patients but, as of today, the system has two flaws. I agree with him and will add a marketing perspective to his thoughts.
1. There is a scarcity of reviews on the medical review sites
Medical review websites such as HealthGrades, DoctorScorecard , Vitals.com, and RateMDs.com, do not offer nearly the same number of reviews or breadth of information as restaurant review sites. Information is sparse, and the average doctor has 2 reviews. Furthermore, a recent study of 33 ratings sites showed that 88% of the reviews are positive. How can this info be helpful to the prospective patient who may be deciding which medical professionals to avoid?
In my opinion, there are 3 factors at play. First, the sites are fairly new, or at least their prevalence in search engine results is low. Second, there are too many of them, so reviews of a single provider may be scattered in several places. And third, most online users reading and writing reviews tend to be younger and probably healthier. They are more concerned about their choices for dinner and drinks than choosing a cardiologist. Most importantly, review sites are a form of social media, or a community. And like any community, people will be involved when they see others like themselves involved. We’ve seen online reviews start to appear in Google Places pages for our clients whose practices skew younger, such as Urgent Care, Chiropractic, or Ophthalmology. Our clients have stated that the online reviews were the determining factor for some new patients in deciding to visit the practice. In the coming years, we will see more relevant content on patient experiences for a wider variety of medical practices. Whether the online community starts to use the “medical review” sites or sticks with more general sites such as Google Places and Yelp is anyone’s guess.
2. Patient anecdotes may not be the best judge of a doctor’s skills
Dr. Van De Graaff questions whether it is valuable to sum up one’s entire opinion of a physician based on one quick interaction. The doctor may have just finished a difficult procedure and the patient construes his detached demeanor as rude. Does relaying this experience to the masses really help others in the community determine his skills as a physician? It’s a valid point.
In reality, nothing has changed other than technology. Fifteen years ago, if I visited a cardiologist and was put off by his bedside manner, I would tell five friends, of which most would forget the doctor’s name the next day. Today, I can report my thoughts to millions and they will live online presumably forever. Fair? Probably not.
However, this is the reality physicians need to face, especially as the generation that grew up on the internet ages. It’s not going away. We instruct our clients how to generate positive reviews for their practices. Next to word-of-mouth from a trusted source, this is the most powerful marketing tool, especially for practices that are highly competitive and don’t rely on physician referrals.