The Worst Types of Online Reviews

Madeleine Beckman


July 12, 2017

In This Article

Review Sites Proliferate Like Bacterial Spores

When Anatole Broyard, a former editor of the New York Times Book Review, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he wrote about how disappointed he was in his doctor. From the moment Broyard met his doctor, he didn't like him[1]:

I had a negative feeling about this doctor. He didn't seem intense enough or determined enough to prevail over something powerful and demonic like illness. He had a pink, soft face and blue eyes, and his manner was hearty and vague at the same time... He reminded me of a salesman with nothing to sell but his inoffensiveness...

The difference between Broyard's account in 1990 and today's online patient reviews of doctors is vast. To begin, Broyard was a professional editor and writer, and his words were reviewed by editors before they went out into the world for readers and for posterity.

Today's Yelpification of doctors and healthcare is here to stay. Websites are proliferating like bacterial spores, enabling anyone—whether you're a patient or not—to review doctors. Experts agree that the three most common types of negative online physician reviews are as follows:

  1. "Crazy person": The review is overly sensitive, overreactive, and unrealistic, but could influence people.

  2. "Medical competence": The reviewer complains about a misdiagnosis or medical error, casts doubt on the physician's medical competence, or believes that he or she did not get the right tests or medication.

  3. "Nuts and bolts": The review runs the gamut from office décor, staff attentiveness, doctor lateness, bad coffee, loud music, lack of WiFi, outdated magazines, cleanliness of the bathrooms, and more.

This 2015 Yelp review of Dr Charles Saha, a Manhattan-based internist and gastroenterologist, illustrates all three of the above categories. "This is verbatim," says Saha.[2]

First of all the practice itself is strange. It looks like a country doctor's office. You have to walk up many flights of stairs to get there. Then there's Fox News on the TV (the first I've ever encountered!) Dr Saha appeared with a white MD coat covered with political buttons and an American flag. I asked if he was Republican and he said yes. It was very unprofessional. (I have MDs that are Republican but this is just weird.) I was there for synthroid med and after several tries, we got the correct dosage. But I don't feel the practice suits me. And I didn't want Dr Saba [sic] to examine me. So we just agreed to deal with medication issue. Receptionists behind the desk were efficient. Patients there looked staid. Just not my kind of folks.

According to a 2014 JAMA survey, the use of online physician reviews and testimonials is growing and increasing in importance for consumers.[3] JAMA's survey revealed that 40% of patients think that physician ratings on websites are "somewhat important." Of those who used the Web to find a physician, 35% selected a doctor on the basis of good ratings, and 27% avoided a provider because of bad ratings.

Although a recent study from the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems reports that physician ratings are overall positive (a mean of 3.93 on a scale of 1 to 5),[4] what's a physician to do if he or she receives a review that falls into one of the three particularly brutal negative categories? Let's take a look.


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