The Google Effect: Impact of Doctor Reviews on Patient Decisions

If you’re like me, you probably use Google and Yelp often to make decisions—a new restaurant or gym class to try—relying on the recommendations and reviews of people just like us. The Yelp culture has penetrated healthcare, too. We’re rating our doctors almost as frequently as our local bars. Websites such as HealthGrades, RateMDs and Vitals give people the opportunity to publish and read reviews about a healthcare professional. Researchers at the University of Michigan published a paper in JAMA that found 25% of Americans look online for doctor reviews before making an appointment. In addition, a third of that population makes a decision to see or not see a particular doctor based on the reviews they read online. While patients are embracing these resources, physicians are not as enthusiastic. As one family physician stated in a Wall Street Journal article, “[Reviews] can be pretty brutal […] Part of being a physician now is having to deal with these.” However, the article notes that some physicians are embracing the reviews and looking for ways to change their practice for the better. When considering the popularity of searching for health information online, it should seem a natural progression that patients are going online to read and write reviews about their physicians. While some physicians may be concerned with reviews, others are using feedback to improve their practice. The empowered patient is going to do everything they can to get the best care for themselves. Given how unique each person’s health needs are, it is our responsibility to encourage patients to make each decision with as much information as possible—and directing them to reliable sources they can trust. Consider the real-time market research and insight coming out of these reviews on patient needs, preferences, new trends by disease or geographical location, unmet needs and expectations—there is an important opportunity to identify how your product can either enhance the doctor office experience and/or patient-doctor interaction or fill the gaps.

  • Sam Welch

    A veteran marketer of some of the world’s most recognizable names in healthcare, Sam brings a broad perspective to communications as Global Group President for Discovery Chicago, Razorfish Healthware and the Saatchi & Saatchi Health brand families. Agency offerings include professional promotion, consumer communications, branding, customer relationship management, digital promotion, and government affairs. Previous roles within PHCG include President of Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications Group in the U.S. and Chief Operating Officer of PHCG. Sam serves on the board of The Child Center of NY, an organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth through education, counseling, and youth development services.