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Yelp Reviews for Medical Professions

By editor
May 3, 2016

We wanted to review the trends in the Social Media comments received regarding Doctors and other Medical Professions.  Media websites, such as Yelp and Facebook, allow anyone to leave reviews about any business.  The reviews are anonymous, and there are no guarantee the reviewer even used a particular service, or just seeking revenge for a perceived snub that does not have an objective bearing on a vendor's level of service.

Reading Yelp reviews has become one of the main ways to help us make decisions about a new hair stylist and choices about which restaurant to go to or which health club to join.  This trend, no doubt, keeps service industry vendors compete harder for their clients and keep the quality of their services higher.  Reviews and comments cover anything from the quality of service, availability of parking, cleanliness, customer service friendliness, or even an internal decor or an odor at a location.

Now Doctor offices also receive reviews. But can medical services be reviewed in the same light as a restaurant or a car mechanic?  Doctors deal with a very important aspect of services - taking care of our health.  Sometimes their treatment has life or death consequences.  Social Media comments certainly are important for selection of your medical provider, however we need to understand the difference in the level of services of a sushi place or a hotel and a doctor visit for a difficult health issue.

Visits to a doctor are much more complex than a car tune-up at a mechanic or a Mani-Pedi at a nail salon.  Doctors study for many years.  Their studies are followed by a long period of practice before they can treat patients on their own.  Doctors use highly specialized and complex equipment and often select from several treatment options available for a specific ailment.  Some patients come to a Doctor for help too late when their condition has deteriorated beyond the level that a Doctor can heal.  Some conditions are very difficult to treat; some do not have a treatment invented for yet.  Many treatments carry side effects.  Some treatments are not suitable for a 100% of patients or not possible because of allergies or conflicts with other treatments a patient is undergoing.

It also happens that different doctors have different opinions regarding an ailment and its treatment (that's where the expression "to get a second opinion" comes from).  Those different opinions are not because one doctor is incompetent and the other one is knowledgeable.  Those different opinions are formed because of variability in personal health of patients, their physical condition, how long a patient had a disease, how long it was untreated, and often many other factors.  Sometimes there are different methods of treatment that have been independently developed, and accepted by Doctors coming form different Universities or groups of Doctors.  For some conditions there are several treatments that could be equally effective, but the patient's personal response to those is different.  In short, medicine is a very complex field involving many more variables than services at a spa or a dry cleaner.  However, Doctors always try their best - they are required to, they took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm and apply all their knowledge to treat a patient.

Doctors and other Medical Professions services often get seriously damaging and negative comments online not because of the level of the medical help a patient received, but because of long waiting lines or how they were greeted by the receptionist.  Sometimes a Doctor is publicly blamed for incompetence when unfortunately a patient has a medical condition that is not treatable.  If highly negative reviews result from such a situation, Doctors often are helpless to address or improve their level of services.

Confidentiality obligations restrict doctors’ ability to respond to comments.  Unlike many other businesses, doctors owe their patients a duty of confidentiality.  As a result, doctors cannot respond adequately due to HIPAA requirements.

Reviews provide doctors with useful feedback.  However concerns about the medical treatments are rare, patients typically comment on issues with parking, manners of the front personnel, billing practices (that depend on insurance restrictions outside of the Doctor's power to change), operating hours or bedside manners.  In fact, most patient reviews address issues other than the medical treatment they received from a Doctor.  The result of such negative comments is that often excellent physicians end up with overall bad ratings.  This in turn leads to the situation when the people who need experienced medical attention are diverted to an office that has smaller waiting lines but often has a less experienced physician.

Unfortunately, often Doctor ratings do not depend on whether or not a patient was cured of a disease.  Instead patients talk about whether a doctor or nurse was kind to them, or whether their experience was fast and convenient.

We encourage patient reviews, but we feel the reviews should be weighed in a different light than a local pizzeria or a movie theater.  The complexity of the Doctors' work should be recognized.  It is likely that the lines are longer because more patients want to see a skilled Doctor or that a particular office accepts many different insurance carriers and thus more patients are attracted to this office.  It is likely that the Doctor or nurse are not smiling because they are busy addressing a complicated medical case for a patient.

The American Medical Association encourages patients to talk to their doctors if they have concerns, not post views anonymously.  We feel the same way - discuss  your particular issue with the Doctor's office and seek resolution first, your complaint has a much better chance of being resolved to your satisfaction.




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