Are Doctor Review Sites Reliable?

June 22, 2017

The topic of online reviews is a hot one among doctors and health systems. Patients now turn to reviews as a primary resource to find a new doctor.

In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA),  41 percent of consumers surveyed report that physician ratings are “very important” to their decision-making.

But many healthcare organizations question the reliability of doctor review sites, citing fake or paid reviews as potential drawbacks. Is the suspicion justified?

Turns out doctor review sites are indeed trustworthy, and here’s why.

Review Sites are Cracking Down on Fake Reviews

A few years ago, there was a trend toward companies writing “fake reviews” online, to boost ratings and rankings. This created widespread suspicion among consumers.

In fact, at one point, 90 percent of Americans suspected reviews are fraudulent or not trustworthy.  

But since then, review sites have been cracking down on fake and fraudulent reviews.

For example, In October 2015, Amazon sued more than 1,000 people for proffering fake reviews. And in October 2016, the company gave the boot to incentivized reviews — reviews written in exchange for free or discounted products. Amazon is even employing machine learning to bump up reviews deemed to be the most true to customers' experiences. Its algorithm gives extra weight to newer reviews, as well.

Continuing this trend, Google announced at the end of last year that it improved how it identifies and removes fake reviews and ratings.

In an effort to build credibility as trusted review sources, healthcare industry-specific review sites such as Healthgrades and WebMD are following suit. With a heightened awareness of consumer suspicion, the motivation for removing fake reviews is high, and over time, review sites are likely to find ways to eliminate fake reviews completely.

Data Shows Strong Correlation Between Reviews and HCAHPS Scores

Research has shown that HCAHPS scores can be predicted by online reviews — another data point that points to the credibility of review sites.

In a recent study, Reputation.com data scientists analyzed two years of HCAHPS data across 4,800 hospitals, alongside online reviews, ratings and rankings for those same hospitals. They found that positive online sentiment predicts an increase in HCAHPS scores by as much as 17 percent, year over year.

As sentiment across industry-specific as well as major review sites was used in the study, the findings underscore the trustworthiness of healthcare review sites. If they weren’t reliable, a correlation wouldn’t exist between review content and HCAHPS results.

Start With These Six Sites, Then Branch Out

As you're building your online reputation, it’s important to have a presence across multiple sites. But some have more impact than others.

JAMA’s study revealed that although Healthgrades and RateMDs have higher coverage of doctors and higher average reviews per doctor, patients trust Google and Facebook more.

Our advice? Focus your energy on the sites that will have the most impact with potential patients (Google and Facebook), then move onto the industry-specific sites.

Here are a few additional tips to ensure you’re represented fairly across review sites:

  • Build review volume. SearchEngineLand found that most consumers who do trust online reviews only do so if there are multiple reviews. You can build a strong base of balanced, representative reviews by making it easy for patients to find and review you online. For example, you can use buttons on doctors’ web pages to link to review sites.

  • Don’t delete negative reviews. Build trust and credibility by committing to being transparent about customer feedback, whether good or bad. Make sure you respond promptly to reviews, and never suppress the bad ones — they lend authenticity to the positive ones.

  • Stream survey data to doctors’ websites. Provide a 360-degree view of patient experience by streaming patient satisfaction survey data to doctors’ web pages. This adds credibility, and compliments online reviews with additional information about quality of care.

For more information about improving your online reputation, read our ORM success kit.

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