Online reviews: what you really learn from them

Online Reviews

“They had a bunch of Yelp reviews, so I scheduled an appointment!”

I heard this recently from a friend when she was searching for a physical therapist following shoulder surgery.


As a consumer, I appreciate the helpfulness of online reviews. Recently, when I was making a decision about which jute rug would take the best wear and tear from my dogs, I turned to online reviews and am still thrilled with my purchase. We are a busy society and want to leverage one another’s time and experiences, and reviews can be a great way to do that.

But healthcare is where I draw the line. As a member of the healthcare community, I can assure you that online reviews do not tell you about the competence of a healthcare provider. Why? Because reviews are inherently just opinions. There is nothing factual about “Dr. Jones is a great doctor!” What reviews can tell you, however, is how that healthcare provider made someone feel. “Dr. Jones took the time to really listen to my fears. He didn’t talk over me, he just listened.”  The two are very different.

It makes sense as to why we defer to reviews. Healthcare has become such a machine in our country, and insurance only further complicates the animal. The average person is not equipped with enough medical knowledge to ask the right questions when selecting a healthcare provider, so we are left with few paths to selection: ask friends and family for referrals, go where insurance tells us we can go, or turn to the internet – more specifically, online reviews.

As consumers, we have been trained to look at the quantity of reviews, but not how to decipher their quality. Don’t be fooled. Many businesses offer incentives for online reviews, including healthcare providers. Seeing that a doctor has 500 5-Star reviews only tells you one thing: they are very good about asking and/or incentivizing people to take the time to leave a review.

Here’s the secret: look for facts and look for patterns. Do you see a consistent theme among patient comments? Do people repeatedly say that the dentist put them at ease? Took the time to answer their questions? Is it easy to schedule an appointment or get in if you have an emergency? Is the office clean?

The bottom line is to use a multitude of factors in selecting a healthcare professional, one of which may be online reviews, but remain vigilant.  

Tracy Fitzpatrick When she stepped behind the curtain and began working in the world of healthcare, Tracy was blown away by all of the things that we, as average consumers, don't understand about the way things really work and how much we are informed by giant marketing operations. She likes to pull back the covers and give people an honest look at what goes on behind the scenes so that they can make truly informed decisions and participate more fully in their healthcare.

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