Online Doctor Reviews

 Four times as many patients peeved about service & bedside manner than medical skills

Survey of thousands of negative physician ratings indicates most patient complaints are addressable through improved business practices

DENVER (April 30, 2013) – Unhappy patients who post negative online reviews of their doctors complain about poor customer service and bedside manner four times more often than cite misdiagnoses and inadequate medical skills as cause for their dissatisfaction, according to a multi-city study of “rate-your-doctor” websites.

Among the harshest online critics of health care providers, nearly one in five says their experience was so unpleasant that they will never go back to the same doctor again.

These results came from an evaluation of 3,617 online reviews of doctors in four U.S. cities conducted by Vanguard Communications, a branding, interactive marketing and PR firm for specialty medical practices throughout North America.

In recent years nearly two-dozen doctors nationwide have sued patients and/or website publishers for airing grievances publicly, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.

But Vanguard’s findings suggest far simpler remedies may be remarkably more effective, said Ron Harman King, CEO of the firm and author of the book “The Totally Wired Doctor.”

“Doctors who sue patients very rarely gain anything but additional negative publicity,” King said. “Often, the easier solution is to take preventive measures – examples include a doctor apologizing to a patient in the exam room for running behind schedule, and staffing the phones and front desk of a doctor’s office with the most cheerful employees.”

For its study, Vanguard analyzed ratings of 300 internists and OB/GYNs in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Austin with the worst online reviews on popular websites for patient feedback.

More than half of the reviews studied – 1,916, or 53 percent – earned two stars or less out of a maximum of either four or five stars.  Of these, 18.8 percent of the reviewers said they would not return to the same doctor and/or medical group. Other highlights:

  • Just 21.5 percent of the low marks cited physician skill as a major concern. Grumblings in this category ranged from accusations of a pierced colon during a routine colonoscopy, a false diagnosis of diabetes based on a single blood test and cancer being misdiagnosed as a cyst.
  • The biggest source of complaints was perceived doctor indifference and bedside manner – 43.1 percent of the critics said their annoyance was because the doctor was rushed, late for the scheduled appointment, did not listen well or was otherwise dismissive of their concerns.
  • In close second-place were customer-service gripes, constituting 35.3 percent of protests and running the gamut from staff rudeness to erroneous billing to unprofessional dress and appearance to unhygienic facilities. For example:

“I could get in touch with Ryan Gosling before these people took me off hold/answered my messages/made any contact.”

“Studies published recently in medical journals indicate a high degree of inaccuracy and lack of reliability in Internet reviews, perhaps leading doctors to brush off online criticisms,” King said. “That could be a mistake. If 20 percent of online reviewers recommended not eating at a particular restaurant, how long would you expect it to stay in business?”

More details from the findings, including sample review comments, are available at VanguardCommunications.net/2013-survey.

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About Vanguard Communications

Since 1994, Vanguard Communications has provided specialty healthcare marketing with a strategy focused on patient education guaranteed to bring new patients to specialist physicians, physician assistants, nurses and therapists in private, university and hospital practices. Through its MedMarketLink program, Vanguard combines the disciplines of online and offline PR, strategic marketing and information technology for healthcare providers coast to coast.

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