Studies show that consumers search for and rely on reviews for nearly everything, including medical care.  We are all looking for that 5 star product or service.  Couple this with a thriving black market in fake reviews and you have a real problem.  Many sellers believe that it is a matter of life and death for them to have positive reviews and are willing to pay someone to provide them.  Doctors are not immune to these temptations.

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The problem of fake reviews of doctors, hospitals and other medical care providers is not new but it is getting worse.  There is ever greater pressure to have good reviews in order to drive patients to your practice or hospital.  Your competitors are posting 5 star reviews.  Can you afford to be left behind?  What if your patients don’t feel comfortable leaving reviews?  What if you can’t persuade enough of them to give you good ratings?  What if some of them give you an undeserved bad rating?  The solution many doctors have turned to is the service that sells fake 5 star reviews.

It is hard to tell just how many fake reviews are out there but everything suggests there are a lot of them.  The sites where these reviews appear have algorithms that look for signs of a fake review and either remove it or downplay it.  At the same time, the sellers of the fake reviews are learning how to make their reviews seem more authentic and to avoid being identified by the algorithms.  It is a constant game of cat and mouse and the consumer is caught in the middle.

It is not just fake 5 star reviews that are a problem.  There are also services out there that, for a price, will scrub the internet of any negative reviews.  So even if a doctor’s reviews are all legitimate and from real patients, if the negative ones are scrubbed, the doctor may look a lot better than she or he deserves to look.

So what happens when a doctor or hospital buys fake reviews?  Generally, nothing happens.  You can look long and hard and not find examples of doctors being disciplined for buying fake reviews.   You would think this type of dishonesty would bring medical board discipline but you would be wrong, at least based on the lack of action by the boards.

In some ways this is poetic justice.  Why are we relying on internet reviews when selecting a doctor or hospital in the first place?  Many doctors argue, and with good reason, that patients are not in a good position to evaluate medical care.  For many patients, a good outcome must mean that the doctor did a good job.  Conversely, for many patients, a bad outcome means poor medical care, even if the outcome was beyond the ability of the doctor to control.  Another example of the lack of reliability of patient doctor reviews is that patients rated doctors who freely prescribed opiates more highly than those who were more careful about prescribing these highly addictive medicines.

A similar problem exists in patient ratings for hospitals.  Medicare keeps track of many quality measures, such as hospital readmissions, infections, complications, cleanliness, deaths and so forth.  However, it appears that consumers are much more likely to look for and be swayed by on line patient reviews than by Medicare’s more reliable tracking.  To top it off, studies have shown that the single most important factor in patient hospital ratings is the quality of the food.  It is pretty foolish of us to value hospital food higher than the quality of the health care.  If you want good food, go to a nice restaurant.  If you want good hospital care, go to a hospital that scores well on Medicare’s quality standards.

There are some important lessons to learn from all this.  First and foremost, don’t rely on patient ratings of doctors or hospitals.  They may be fake but, even if they are real, they may not be reliable indicators of the quality of care you can expect to receive.  Second, go to trusted sources such as and your state medical board.  Check the hospital’s rating with Medicare and check the doctor’s education, training and discipline history with the medical board.  You can’t guarantee a good outcome, even if you follow these steps, but you can give yourself the best chance to receive good medical care.



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