Why Patients Seek Out Negative Reviews

Added on Jul 31, 2018

By Chrissy Daniels, Partner, Medical Practice, Consumerism & Transparency

chrissy_daniels_sbThe preponderance of online customer ratings for most products and services confirm that these reviews play an important role in the consumer decision-making process. Health care is no exception. As patients, our natural tendency is to seek out the experiences of other patients when deciding on where and from whom to seek care.

For physicians, however, online reviews can cause angst. A single negative comment can seem to shine like a beacon, even if it’s floating within a sea of positive ones. For this reason, it’s useful for physicians to understand how patients use negative reviews, and how they can even be valuable.

Perhaps most important is the realization that we, as patients, don’t accept every review as the gospel truth. We approach them with a healthy dose of “optimistic skepticism”— hoping that we will find something useful to help guide our decisions, but understanding that the information reflects subjective opinions and perceptions. So why do we look to them?

  • We want to mitigate risk. Selecting a new doctor is serious business. We are looking for someone we can trust with our long-term health and with whom to build a long-term relationship. Consumers are invested in finding a doctor that fits, with the right combination of skill, communication, efficiency and access. That being said, 79% of patients reported that they were likely or very likely to change doctors after a bad personal experience, according to Press Ganey’s 2018 Health Care Consumer Survey—and this is where the negative reviews come into play. We want to feel secure in our decision-making processes, and we want to understand the possible problems we could encounter in the relationship.That doesn’t mean we avoid any provider with a negative review, however. It means we look for the negative comments, weigh the feedback and either validate or disregard it.

  • We want to identify patterns. While looking through the reviews, consumers instinctively look for the outlier comments. We scan the positive and negative comments for the variability in the offering. This is a measure of reliability. It’s also why a larger volume of reviews is so important to a consumer. We are looking for the frequency of outliers. Consumers report that when they encounter a negative review, they are looking for patterns. Did it happen for one patient or seven? No pattern, no problem.

  • We want to understand the experiences of people like ourselves. Consumers are not swayed by a negative comment without appraising the context and specific facts surrounding the statement. Why? Because we are well aware that people have different standards. We are looking for the nuance that would let us know whether this person is “like me.” Even though I may share the same diagnosis with a reviewer, I’m looking deeper to see if there are insights into whether the reviewer shares my priorities and values.

  • We are investing our time in the process. Web analytics show that patients are not casually dropping by one physician’s profile page and clicking onto the next. They reveal over and over that consumers are comprehensively evaluating all the content housed on a provider page:practice details, training, research and treatment interests as well as patient reviews. All in all, time spent on a page can be upward of 4 minutes on average, and this is just the start. Most patients go to the provider page to verify information they find on third-party sites. If time is our most valuable resource, then consumers are truly paying it forward in the patient-provider relationship.

Despite all of this, it’s still emotional for providers when they see negative comments on their profile. Most fear that anything less than perfectly positive patient reviews will lead to peril. Understanding how consumers navigate negative reviews can help to reduce anxiety over occasional outlier comments. The real opportunity is to focus on any emerging patterns from negative comments, and to target those areas for improvement.