Practice Marketing

How Online Doctor Reviews Affect Patients

How Online Doctor Reviews Affect Patients

Being a doctor isn’t always fun. Of course there are the endless years of education and training along with the debt and loans that accumulate with them. There’s also the risk of burnout which is a result of the long working hours. Burnout can leave a physician feeling exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically and might even make them antagonize patients which will of course have a negative impact on how they do their job. None of these are fun but they’re not what I’m talking about. The issue here is delivering bad news or giving harsh instructions to patients.

These are part of the job that no one appreciates because we can put ourselves in the shoes of patients and we know how terrible they’ll end up feeling at the end of the conversation. We’ve all been criticized by people we care about for doing something detrimental to our health, careers, or relationships. It’s as hard to hear the news as it is to be the one giving it. Online doctor reviews don’t help make doctors feel any better about it. In addition to how awful it makes us feel as people the last thing we need is to worry about getting a terrible review for doing our job.

This is one of the issues of online doctor reviews. The internet brought a lot of changes to medicine and admittedly most of them are great, but online doctor reviews have both positives and negatives and it’s very important to write them objectively. A doctor worrying about reviews will have a different approach to his or her patients and that approach may not necessarily be a better one. It may change the way a doctor examines patients, the investigations they order, and even the treatment they prescribe to patients.

First of all there’s the issue of a doctor doing unnecessary examination and testing in the clinic in order to show the patient that they’re being thorough. Once you’re a good doctor and with a lot of experience the job can get pretty easy, almost too easy and routine at times. As the patient walks through the door you already know the diagnosis. Even as a junior doctor there are some pretty clear cases. History can easily point you to the diagnosis as well. Something like a peptic ulcer can be easily diagnosed through history and an examination wouldn’t reveal anything.

Not all patients appreciate a doctor being good enough to diagnose them the moment they walk in. It’s mostly skepticism. They’re thinking you can’t be that good or that you’re just too full of yourself and you’re probably wrong. That of course will reflect on your review. This is why some doctors may spend additional times performing unnecessary examinations to a patient which won’t add anything to the diagnosis or management plan. Patients appreciate a doctor being thorough and they want to feel taken care of.

This also has an influence over the management plan which includes investigations required. A lot of diseases really don’t need investigations. If you suspect a peptic ulcer then the definitive way to know would be by having the patient undergo an endoscopy which is pretty uncomfortable and unnecessary if the patient isn’t old and you’re not suspecting cancer. A lot of patients would like to be asked to perform investigations because it falls under the doctor being thorough.

Unnecessary investigations can have side effects for patients as well. Even a simple x-ray can expose a patient to unnecessary radiation and a lumbar puncture can introduce an infection. You may not require them as a doctor but the patient may need them in order to feel more confident about the diagnosis and prognosis. If you tell them they’ll get better in a few weeks or days without investigations they’ll doubt you and wonder how you can be so sure without asking for additional testing.

Surgeons are also affected by patient reviews of doctors. On television you always see handsome surgeons taking on difficult and new surgeries in order to show their worth and prove that they’re the best, but that’s not always the case in reality especially these days. A surgeon may back off taking a risky surgery because they’re worried of the bad review that’ll come if it’s not successful. Some surgeries have really low success rates and that’s due to a number of factors such as the patient’s age, the condition itself, how advanced the condition is. So if a surgery has a 30% success rate that means there’s a 70% chance that it’ll fail regardless of what the surgeon does.

No matter how many times the risks are explained to the patient they still won’t be too happy if the surgery isn’t successful and you really can’t blame them too much. This will result in the surgeon getting a negative review of course. That’s why a lot of surgeons are turning down surgeries and referring patients to other surgeons. They don’t want to risk it and get a negative review.

This brings us to the kind of procedures they choose to do. They prefer to do relatively safe procedures with high success rates in order to get better reviews. This can turn the job into a bit of a routine if you’re doing the same few surgeries dozens of times. In order for a doctor to keep growing they need to challenge themselves and keep learning. They do this by going out of their depth and taking on different procedures. If you’ve been doing the same 5-6 procedures for over 4 years then you’re not advancing as a physician. What’s the point of learning anything new if you’re not going to use it?

If you’re someone who likes fighting the odds and doing what others won’t then you’ll be respected in the medical community, but if you don’t beat the odds then you’re going to get poor reviews and ratings which will affect your career. This is dangerous as it may force more and more doctors to stick to the easy and avoid the risky. When that happens who’s going to treat the patients who require risky surgeries if everyone’s afraid?

Online doctor reviews even have an influence on specialty selection. As a senior medical student thinking about specialties why would you choose a specialty that people are usually unsatisfied with unless you’re really in love with that specialty? You could just choose something low risk where everyone leaves your office with a smile on their face and your reviews are always high. This will make your career much easier but maybe at the expense of doing something you weren’t interested in the most while a med student.

A doctor may also start to become review oriented. Happy customers don’t usually write reviews. It’s like when you’re in an Uber and you had a pleasant trip you’ll probably not be too anxious to open the app and give your driver 5 stars. If the trip sucked, however; you’re probably thinking I can’t wait to give them 2 stars and a poor review. A happy patient won’t be bothered to give their doctor a review. They had a pleasant trip to their doctor and they’ll just carry on with their lives. On the other hand an unsatisfied patient will most certainly log in to give a poor review.

That’s why a lot of doctors have to ask their patients to go online and review them so that the 9 good reviews lessen the effect of that one poor rating they get once in a while. This of course takes time off actual patient care and shifts the attention from what the session is really about which is the patient.

Online reviews can be a useful indicator to how good a doctor is. Unfortunately they also have a negative impact on physicians and medicine overall. So keep this in mind when looking at physician reviews online. They’re indicators but not absolute judgments on how good or bad a doctor really is.