Why Online Reviews of Doctors Often Are Worthless

Suspicious woman at laptop
Pheelings media / Shutterstock.com

When you buy an affordable product based on good reviews, you save money. But when you find a doctor who has good reviews, it could save your life — if the reviews are legitimate.

But there is a good chance those testimonies are phony. In fact, it happens more often than you might think, according to a recent report in The Washington Post.

The newspaper says organizations such as Google, the review site Trustpilot and consumer watchdog sites like Fake Review Watch regularly uncover such fake reviews.

Kay Dean, a former fraud investigator who founded Fake Review Watch, told The Washington Post that she has discovered dozens of Facebook groups where businesses — including medical practices — can buy and sell fake reviews.

According to the Post:

“Posting fraudulent reviews may be illegal under federal and state laws if there is financial gain involved. But enforcement is scattershot, and it is hard to find cases of disciplinary action from professional bodies for review fraud.

Organizations such as Google and Trustpilot have the means to ferret out a good portion of these fake reviews for health care providers.

For example, at Google, staffers and software can figure out if a review is a likely fake based on factors such as the location of the person writing the review. If someone in Baltimore writes about a doctor in Seattle, it raises red flags.

Unfortunately, however, there isn’t much you can do to detect these fake reviews on your own. People are “notoriously terrible at determining whether a review is fake,” says Zachary Pardes, director of brand advertising and communications for North America at Trustpilot.

Many consumers expect to spot a fake review based on things like poor grammar and syntax. But it doesn’t work that way, Pardes told the Post.

So, fake reviews are likely to continue to flourish, at least for now. And that means a lot of people might be misled.

The Post reports that more than 70% of patients used online reviews as the first step to finding a new doctor, according to a 2020 survey done by consulting firm Software Advice. That’s up from just 25% of patients in 2013.

For more on what you can do to avoid health care mistakes, check out:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.