THE BLOG
12/15/2011 03:47 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2012

Flawed: Consumer Review Sites for Dentists and Physicians

Did you know that my NYC Cosmetic Dentist practice has a five star rating?[1]

Truthfully, I didn't know that either until I started thinking about and researching today's blog topic, which is online reviews of dentists. And you'll probably be surprised that even though I have a really good rating, I think the system is flawed, and somewhat meaningless. (So does that mean I'm telling you to ignore my five-star rating? I guess it does!)

Now, don't get me wrong -- I do think online rankings/reviews for certain things are VERY useful -- things like hotels, movies, food, theme parks, video games... even products at Amazon.com and the like. But as a dentist, I do have to say that I think online ratings for the medical fields are not very helpful.

The reason I think online ratings are okay for some things is volume. Sheer volume. If you get 5,000 reviews (like a restaurant/hotel/etc. would), you can generally assume that most of them are written by real people. In this age of smartphones, I've seen people writing a restaurant review while eating their meal. Or, people writing a bad review of a product when they really have an issue with the post office who lost their delivery. (How many times have you seen that on Amazon -- somebody gives a book a one-star review because they never got their order... Are they really reviewing the book?)

That said, once you get past a certain number (let's say, several hundred reviews), people with an axe to grind have less influence on an overall score, and you begin to see the true picture of the business or product.

But for a dentist or doctor? It'll be years and years before you get 500 reviews. Thus, people with an axe to grind (or a competitor looking to hurt you) will have a huge influence. Or, on the other side of that coin, "fake" good reviews can have a big influence also. For example, look at my reviews -- more than half of them are anonymous. How do you know I didn't write them myself? The truth is, you don't know that for sure. (I didn't write them, mind you, but I am trying to point out how absurd the review process can be.) I do understand that hotels and restaurants can have "fake" reviews also, but once you get into big numbers, they tend to wash out. If a place has 4,000 reviews and most of them are not so good, it's probably a safe bet you won't get the greatest meal there.

Here's another thing I found out in my research -- there is an industry out there based on fake reviews.[2] People will do anything for money, and if it means sitting at home in your PJs and writing fake reviews for five dollars... Well, there's someone out there willing to do it. Or, companies themselves try and manipulate reviews.[3] It seems in this online world, business gets more and more cutthroat.

You know, as I write this post and think about it, what's to stop a company from ordering 1,000 testimonials from, say, an outsourcing company for one dollar each or something like that? This would satisfy some of the criteria I mentioned above as being "good" (a sheer number of reviews). I like to think people (and companies) are honest, but increasingly, we find that money rules all. After all, I still get e-mails from Nigerian princes looking for ME to help them transfer money. They must not know the truth -- my wife handles that stuff because I am inept. I'm a good dentist, but I leave the checkbook to others.

There's another aspect to reviews that I want to discuss, but it's more related to my industry, although I'm sure other industries have similar issues. And that's the fact that sometimes good dental work is more painful in the short term than bad dental work. Let me give you an example: Dentist A skips a key step in making a crown. This causes most crowns to fail in a few years, but patients experience little pain during or after the procedure. Dentist B (me) does not skip this key step. However, doing a crown this way can (and often does) result in perhaps two weeks of mild discomfort. But, after the two weeks, things are fine, and the crown lasts 30 years.

Which patient is more apt to write a bad review two days after the process? But, which patient actually got the better treatment?

There are a lot of examples like that in dentistry. The fact is, good, competent dentistry is not cheap, nor is it the most fun way to spend a day. I can admit this. But, those two things can make some patients angry, angry enough to say something bad online. So in the end, take dental (and any medical profession) "reviews" with a grain of salt. Ask advice from family and friends, and go with your gut.

Oh, one last thing -- while researching, I came upon a list I ranked #2 on, and I am kind of proud of this one.[4] And I have you readers to thank for it.

Until next time, keep smiling!

[1] http://www.yellowpages.com/new-york-ny/mip/thomas-connelly-cosmetic-dentistry-450988165

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/technology/finding-fake-reviews-online.html

[3] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31928795/ns/travel-news/t/tripadvisor-warns-fake-reviews/

[4] http://www.1dental.com/blog/2011/05/20/top-10-dentists-in-social-media/