Today’s consumers consult internet reviews to make a lot of decisions. From buying cars and bikes to finding the best local restaurant or hair salon—they crowdsource their lives to find the best services. While sifting through Yelp reviews may be valuable for finding the best local cafe or auto dealer, it’s not the best practice for vetting physicians.
The general consensus has been that as long as medical doctors have undergone medical training and they are licensed to practice, they provide quality care. But, sadly, this is not the case. And, online reviews do not tell the full story either.
As a health consumer, quality of care and well-being is the top priority. But, tipping the quality scales in your favor when finding a doctor is only possible when you have a full range of data on physicians. Elements such as a doctor’s medical record, their research, specialties, infractions, and other pertinent information give you a well-rounded picture of a doctor’s competence.
Unfortunately, online review sites like Yelp do not reveal any of these critical factors. They don’t leave you with enough information to make a decision that will result in a positive health experience. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “It is difficult for a prospective patient to find (for any given physician on any commercial physician-rating website) a quantity of reviews that would accurately relay the experience of care with that physician.”
A 2021 article by The Washington Post examined this issue more deeply, reporting that:
- As many as 20% of businesses in the healthcare industry including doctors have suspicious review activity on Google and Yelp
- There are dozens of Facebook groups where businesses, including medical practices, buy and sell fake reviews
- “Online opinions and reviews of physicians should be taken with a grain of salt and should certainly not be a patient’s sole or primary source of information when looking for a physician.” – American Medical Association President, Susan R. Bailey
- Star ratings and written reviews are equally bad at judging the quality of medical care
- Platforms like Yelp and Google face no penalties when they do miss fraud
Limitations of Choosing Yelp Doctors Via Reviews
We realize that navigating your healthcare journey can be confusing and overwhelming. With so much to worry about, online reviews can shortcut your search for a good doctor and give you some peace of mind about your decision.
While the physician review system may have some merit, and choosing a Yelp doctor may be a quick and easy process, it comes with limitations that may actually hinder your ability to find the right doctor. Here’s why:
The Stakes are Higher
There is much more at stake here. You are looking for a person with whom you will share intimate details, someone you will trust with your health and well-being.
Doctors engage with you and have a direct effect on your life, health, and your mortality. This is much different than your relationship with a local restaurant, barber, or laundromat. Leaving this decision up to online reviews may not lead to the health outcome you desire.
Transparency in healthcare is vital, and we discussed this in our article on the major problems with the U.S. healthcare system. Online reviews can foster more transparency and give you insight into what an experience with a particular physician may look like. The concern is that these reviews, while valuable for assessing bedside manner, cleanliness, or staff friendliness, will not make you well-informed enough to choose the right physician for your healthcare needs.
Online health review sites are not based on reliable information. They don’t consult physician data which details a doctor’s experience and career history. Reviews do not cross-reference the information with state medical boards, so you are only seeing the picture that other patrons are painting, which is not enough to make an educated decision.
Take a look at the following information, which is critical to know before you choose a doctor, yet you won’t find it in online reviews.
- Board certification. You may need a specialist. For this reason, you will want to know if the physician is board-certified in a particular specialty, which requires completing specialized training and passing an exam to receive certification.
- Ongoing training. Imagine your computer had a problem and you called an IT provider who stopped keeping up with technology after Windows 93. Though they went through initial computer education, their experience is obsolete if they don’t keep up with new technology. The medical research field moves like lightning as well. In a field where over one million research reports and clinical trials get published yearly, new developments hit the industry rapidly, information that can potentially change the outcome of your healthcare experience. It’s vital that your healthcare provider stays updated with the latest research for your condition, and is ideally involved in their own research, publishing papers in medical journals, and if applicable, engaging in cutting-edge treatments. You cannot glean this information from online reviews.
- Red flags. Has the physician ever been involved in multiple malpractice claims, received suspensions, or faced disciplinary actions?
- Rare conditions expertise – With more than 10,000 known conditions, it’s impossible for every physician to be skilled in thousands of diseases. For this reason, physicians may choose conditions in which to specialize. If you have a rare condition, you must find a physician who has done extensive research and has ample experience successfully treating this condition.
Inconsistency Among Review Sites
Have you ever visited one health review site and saw stellar reviews for a physician, only to find less-than-ideal reviews for the same physician on another review site? This is not uncommon, and you may have experienced the same when searching for reviews on other service providers.
A study by the Hospital for Special Surgery found that sports medicine doctor reviews were inconsistent across three major review websites. Researchers randomly selected 275 sports medicine surgeons and compiled data on academic history, years in practice, and location, and compared this information to patient comments on health websites focusing on friendliness, care, and surgeon competence. Researchers found a low degree of correlation between both ratings.
They also noted that it was unclear how many reviews would be necessary to appropriately evaluate a surgeon’s incompetence, which warrants further investigation—that is, if the reviews can even constitute an accurate assessment of a surgeon’s quality of care. In addition, the legitimacy of the reviews is unknown. They may not have been submitted by actual patients.
Another study from 2020 tracked 10 years of data among patients managing chronic diseases. They compared outcomes for these patients with the reviews given to the doctors they saw. The study looked at factors like hospital readmission risk and other commonly accepted measures of clinical outcomes. The authors concluded that star ratings and written reviews are equally bad at judging the quality of medical care.
“Online rating websites are for-profit business enterprises, which at this point demonstrate significant growth potential,” said Anil Ranawat, MD, senior investigator and sports medicine surgeon at HSS, as reported by HSS. “However, the low degree of correlation between these websites is concerning. It also questions the collective utility of these sites and potentially demonstrates the individually capricious nature of online physician reviews.”
Online reviews may hold some merit; however, they do not assess quality of care. According to Dr. Ranawat, “Although it is debatable whether these websites in their current form truly capture patient satisfaction and objectively evaluate the delivery of care, they represent a potential tool for both payors and healthcare systems to gauge how surgeons are assessed by their patients. Historically, three key qualities — affability, availability, and ability, known as the ‘three A’s’ — have been suggested to promote a successful surgical career and favorable interactions with patients.”
The Dark Side of Online Reviews
One of the reasons health consumers consult online reviews is because they value integrity and do not want to risk poor service. But ironically, the online review industry is loitered with a lack of integrity. Most online review sites like Yelp have no way of knowing if a Yelp doctor review came from an actual patient.
As reported by the Harvard Business Review, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reports that 15% to 20% of reader reviews could be fake.
Fake reviews come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally fall into these categories:
- Negative PR – Did you know that some companies make money starting review smear campaigns for brands? It’s called negative PR.
- Competition takedown – Some brands will write fake negative reviews on competitor profiles to boost business for their own brands.
- Hired for fraud – Some brands hire employees just to post positive reviews about themself and/or negative reviews about their competition. The FTC reported that the successful cosmetics company Sunday Riley ordered employees to write fake positive reviews of its product and bury negative reviews.
- Internet trolls – Trolls are people who spend their time posting fake reviews to get attention.
Physicians are not pleased with the online review system, as well. Some doctors started a Change.org petition to remove reviews from online sites like Yelp. One reason is that because of HIPPA and medical privacy laws, doctors can’t respond to the reviews and share their feedback on the situation. Also, doctors may over-prescribe and overtest just to avoid negative reviews.
How to Find a Good Doctor (Without Relying on Yelp Reviews)
For some patients, finding the right doctor means the difference between life and death, and time is not on their side. MediFind’s CEO and Founder Patrick Howie knows this all too well when he lost his brother to a rare form of cancer. Had he had the time and access to the right information, he may have been able to prolong his life.
Here at MediFind, we rate physicians according to their expertise (among other factors) so you can quickly find specialists that can help. While online reviews may offer insight into some doctor traits, we focus on the most critical aspects—whether or not a doctor can meet your healthcare needs based on their experience, expertise, career history, and more. This information is not readily available to health consumers which is why we created MediFind.
MediFind’s data is primarily driven by conditions since quality of care is dependent on a physician’s expertise with a specific disease.
MediFind allows you to search by doctor, condition, or symptom, and rates doctors according to several factors:
- Research performed on a specific condition
- Volume of patients served with a particular condition
- Standing among peers who treat the particular condition
- Connectedness to other physicians who research and treat the specific condition
When you search for a disease or a rare condition such as Gerodermia Osteodysplastica, MediFind returns a list of experts (along with a rating), and more information about the condition, clinical trials, treatments, and more. You can also search for a doctor directly within the platform.
MediFind sifts through hordes of medical data to return users with experts who are at the forefront of innovation in their fields.
MediFind’s Symptom Checker
If you are experiencing symptoms and you are not yet sure of your condition or what type of doctor to search for, we created a symptom checker to steer you in the right direction. The symptom checker is not a diagnostic assessment but merely a tool to help you narrow your focus when looking for the right doctors.
Find Better Care, Faster
Our goal at MediFind is to help you get the best care, quickly and easily. Yelp doctor reviews (if they are legitimate) may be helpful to weigh preliminary factors related to a provider’s facilities and team. But, finding quality of care is best left to resources that extract the right data to empower you to make the best healthcare decisions for you and your loved ones.