If you’ve ever been interviewed by a newspaper reporter or broadcast journalist, you’ve probably experienced the dismay of seeing your in-depth, informative and comprehensive conversation reduced to a one-liner or 5-second sound bite.
It happens to everyone, just as it happened to RealSelf CEO Tom Seery in a Reuters story last month on the evolution of online doctor reviews. No doubt pressed for space, the writer reduced an extended conversation on the subject into a nugget about the importance of quality comments vs. star-ratings and one-line reviews.
Clearly, the subject deserves more than a newspaper-friendly nugget, which is why we’ve decided to share the original (albeit condensed) conversation below. Here, as they say, is the rest of the story:
How has the idea of posting comments about physicians to the web changed over time?
Until very recently, it was a foreign concept to openly share about your healthcare provider or choices. Privacy was of paramount interest, and you found a doctor by asking around, getting referrals from your primary care physician, or checking the Yellow Page listings. Thanks to social media, there’s a rapid social norming taking place in the information we’re willing to share about our medical providers and decisions.
From my perspective, CitySearch paved the way. Now Google and Yelp are making it completely natural to review any professional, whether it be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. In spite of the large-scale social sharing, Google and Yelp underserve health consumer needs when it comes to “whisper topics,” ranging from fertility to facial plastic surgery. These are conversations and considerations where you don’t want your real identity revealed.
What sort of feedback has there been from doctors?
Doctors have gone through what amounts to an online reviews grieving process. Their first reaction was denial. Reviews were deemed irrelevant, viewed as either the place for crazies or cross-town rivals, not legitimate patient feedback. This was later followed by anger and the focus centered on fighting reviews, suing patients, and getting patients to sign contracts that signed away the copyright to a doctor review.
Where do things stand today?
Over the past two years I’ve observed a shift toward acceptance. Doctors see that reviews are here to stay, that consumers love reading them, and that they represent a critical form of word of mouth to a practice.
More sophisticated practices have moved to a stage where reviews are seen as a marketing channel and a competitive necessity. Doctors are leveraging the content from reviews to learn what’s driving patient satisfaction and adjusting their practices to deliver better experiences. We see doctors adding the reviews to their websites, since they know patients want to read them.
Has there been criticism from doctors?
Plenty. The chief one is that, due to privacy regulations and medical ethics, doctors cannot publicly respond to a specific patient case. This leaves them feeling as though the playing field has shifted to being entirely based on what patients have to say. Doctors can and should, in fact, respond because the full story often reveals that medicine is much more complex than stated in an online posting.
Any additional insights on online review management?
The pressure on doctors to get more positive reviews than their rivals is giving rise to services that attempt to game the review process. Some promise to syndicate review content to numerous rating sites, which violates nearly every review site’s terms of service and is a poor use of a doctor’s resources. Another trend is to get patients to write reviews while in the practice office. In addition to obvious authenticity concerns, this sends a perplexing and troubling message to the patient who selected the doctor based on their favorable online rating.