Is There Any Validity to Online Reviews of Plastic Surgeons?

The Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal published research from Northwestern University which examined more than 1,000 patient reviews of plastic surgeons on Yelp and similar. One of the researchers explained that there are large number of 5 star reviews and large numbers of 1 star reviews but few in between. Intuitively, we know already know this. In addition, he explains many of the patients have never even had surgery but review the surgeon despite this. He posits that experience and skill are being overwhelmed by these reviews.

I am often flabbergasted to read some negative review about how some “patient” could not get a hold of me or how I did not followup. I am literally answering hundreds of emails each day. I am answering all after-hours phone calls personally on my cellphone. You would think this would motivate some reasonable percentage of my patients to review their positive experience with me. Instead, a much higher percentage of reviews are negative than I could ever imagine, as typically only the most unreasonable and antagonistic patients write negative reviews. Many threaten to write negative reviews in an attempt to extort money. Some are so obtuse and resemble no known patient that I have to question the authenticity of these as well as there is ample jealousy among competitors.

It is also very curious that there are yelp plastic surgeon accounts with hundreds of 5 star reviews while I only have 60 or so total reviews. How do plastic surgeons who perform 1/2 or a 1/3 the number of procedures I perform have 3 or 4 times the number of reviews I have? I think that everyone realizes that the system is gamed in both the positive and negative direction.

The other thing to realize is that when someone disgruntled states something is fact it is frequently anything but. The HIPPA, patient privacy policy, which protects patient’s health information also protects unscrupulous patients from being exposed for their falsehoods or defamatory statements.

However, for particularly nasty or morally corrupt individuals who cast aspersions, the legal system can always be utilized. Reviewers cannot state as fact something that is defamatory that can in fact be proven to be incorrect. For instance, let us say that you have pictures of the immediate postop result showing a great result. However, the patient chooses to post postoperative pictures from many months later which show obvious healing issues that result from poor followup and not following postoperative instructions. Using such terms as botched, or negligent, or malpractice in these cases can be proven as false by expert testimony. In this case, the reviewer can be held liable for those false, defamatory comments, which can result in an astronomical judgment against the reviewer.

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