Patients rely on provider reviews — yet 20% of healthcare reviews may be fake on Google and Yelp

Many patients look at physician star ratings and reviews when choosing a provider. However, fake reviews might make it more difficult to find a medical provider, according to a June 5 report by The Washington Post.

Eight things to know:

  1. More than 70 percent of patients use online reviews as the first step to finding a new physician, according to a 2020 study by consulting firm, Software Advice.

  2. Fake Review Watch, a consumer watchdog site, has found dozens of Facebook groups where businesses, including medical practices, buy and sell fraudulent reviews. 

  3. Curtis Boyd, CEO and founder of Objection, which specializes in identifying fake business reviews, said that about 20 percent of business reviews in the healthcare industry, including physician reviews, have suspicious review activity on Google and Yelp.

  4. There are marketplaces of brokers who hire people to write fraudulent reviews on behalf of their clients, such as physicians. Mr. Boyd purchased client lists from 35 brokers to train his algorithm to find fake reviews. Excessive use of exclamation points is an obvious way to detect if a review is fake, he said. Using the word 'love' and exaggerated sentiments are another indicator a review is fake.

  5. Posting fraudulent reviews may be illegal under federal and state laws if there is financial gain involved. Yet, evidence of enforcing these laws is scarce, the Post said. Records from the Medical Board of California, the state with the largest number of practicing physicians, show no actions taken against physicians in the last four years over fake reviews. However, the board doesn't disclose ongoing investigations.

  6. Google’s algorithms and staff use indicators such as the location of the reviewer to determine whether a posting is fraudulent. However, Google gets millions of new postings every day.

  7. Physicians who have private practices tend to have more suspicious reviews in comparison to physicians who work at hospitals, Mr. Boyd said.

  8. Marni Jameson Carey, executive director of the Association of Independent Doctors, a national trade group for physicians in private practices, told the Post she can imagine how some independent physicians may feel desperate enough to boost their reviews to compete against large hospitals that are buying up independent medical practices.

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