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Yelp: Should Doctors be Exempt from Online Reviews?

There’s a Change.org petition that’s only 331 signatures away from the 25,000 limit, making it a legitimate movement. The petition calls for Yelp to remove all online reviews about doctors since they are unable to respond sufficiently because in doing so, they could violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which makes it illegal for doctors to share information about their patients.

The petition claims that doctors can’t properly respond to online Yelp reviews left by patients since they are “often one-sided, impact our livelihood, and medical practices.” They also cause emotional distress to the doctors who cannot explain their side of the story that is out in the public forum for others to read and believe, according to the petition. It goes on to say that doctors will overprescribe or overtest customers just to make them happy and that doctors are not in the business of customer service.

We took this argument over the ropes and into the ring. Our content specialist, Matthew Van Deventer, thinks that doctors should be susceptible to online Yelp reviews no matter the punch. However, Reputation Defender and WebPunch content editor, Karin Siccardi, is in the other corner, sticking with those who have signed the petition. You are the referee.




Matthew Van DeventerMatthew Van Deventer: Against the petition, for patients being able to leave reviews for medical services.




HIPAA, is absolutely crucial—patients need their set of privacy rights and Doctors should be held to that standard. At the same time, medical facilities are also in the customer service business and should be susceptible to online reviews in order to keep that side of the business in check. Online sites can provide a layer of transparency to medical facilities, like any other business. Just because they deal with sensitive information and must adhere to HIPAA does not mean they should be exempt from online reviews. If anything, they should top the list of businesses that rely on online reviews to ensure that their operations are running optimally since they are providing life-saving services.

When we were gathering information about what kinds of businesses were responding to reviews and where, according to U.S. regions, the medical industry was among the most active in responding to reviews. They responded more on Facebook than they did on Google and Yelp, but that’s also where most of their customer reviews were posted.

Admittedly, we didn’t read all 10 bagillion hospital reviews we looked at (believe us, hospitals get A LOT of reviews!) but of the ones we did read, most of them were about crummy customer service. I’m sure there are a handful of reviews out there of someone complaining about their new spleen, or that the doctor left a scalpel in their abdomen, or maybe their face turned out a little too droopy after some plastic surgery. Nevertheless, I think most negative online reviews posted about a medical business are about how the front desk receptionist mixed up their appointment, or how a nurse or doctor was rude and could “work on their bedside manner.” Maybe the actual building smelled like tortilla soup and the stains on the ceiling didn’t exactly instill confidence in a patient.

A patient can share all the personal information they want (and some do—yikes!). If a doctor or representative at a medical facility were to divulge any information, they would be liable for legal action. That being said, when responding to reviews, medical facilities should probably be cautious with their words, be vague yet apologetic, and offer a point of contact.

I’ve provided a heated example in the picture below and one that is not only about customer service but also about the treatment itself. I’m no lawyer but the hospital seems to have provided a very diplomatic response that addresses the patient’s concern and stays within the confines of HIPAA.


Yelp: Should Doctors be Exempt from Online Reviews


There’s a new Change.org petition every time someone sneezes, so I’ll bet this one will get blown away soon enough. Medical facilities are dealing with customers’ wellbeing, their lives. If ice cream shops are being reviewed for quality, I think those dealing with human lives should be subject to online criticism.




Karin SiccardiKarin Siccardi: For the petition, against patients being able to leave online reviews about doctors.



Below is a quick summary of the doctors’ petition. Here is where you can read the Yelp petition in its entirety.


Online reviews are an open forum to the public written by patients, who are allowed to share their stories and photos explaining their experiences that they had with their doctor.  Unlike other businesses, we, the doctors, are not allowed to respond, to defend our case or share any facts or photos to the public because of HIPAA and medical privacy laws.  We, the doctors, find this extremely unfair and unjust.  If patients are allowed to review us, then we should be able to defend the review and be able to state publicly our side of the story.  


I have to side with the doctors on this one. For starters, a visit to a health-care provider is so much more complex than a simple dinner at a restaurant. You begin by signing in at the front desk and providing your insurance information. A nurse then comes to get you and brings you back to get weighed and measured, finally directing you to the room where you will finally have your appointment with the actual doctor. By this time you’ve interacted with several people who have all contributed to your overall experience.

The majority of negative reviews that get posted on Yelp have more to do with a patient’s interaction with the receptionist or complaints about a long wait-time in the waiting room. They aren’t reflections of the true exchange between patient and doctor.

Negative online reviews can wreak havoc on a provider’s livelihood. At this very moment, I could go post a review for the doctor down the street, even if I’ve never stepped foot in that office. How would Yelp know whether or not I’m a patient there? Yelp is an open forum. It’s possible that Yelp will remove a negative review if the doctor can prove that it is fake but we’ve seen first-hand that Yelp usually has no real way to measure whether or not a person actually visited this doctor’s office. And what about doctors who are savvy enough to post negative reviews on their competitors’ Yelp pages?

Unlike other companies, a doctor can’t just change the name of her practice if her reputation gets tarnished. In extreme cases a doctor’s only recourse would be to move to a different state to practice elsewhere. All because the office staff had a bad day or the doctor happened to be behind on the day that particular reviewer was in the office. Should a doctor have to pay for the transgressions of the office staff who might just be having a bad day?

The American Medical Association encourages patients to talk to their doctors if they have concerns, rather than post online reviews. And those looking to Yelp reviews for Healthcare recommendations should also be skeptical, the group says in a statement. “Choosing a physician is more complicated than choosing a good restaurant, and patients owe it to themselves to use the best available resources when making this important decision.”

The AMA has called on all those who profile physicians to give the doctors “the right to review and certify adequacy of the information prior to the profile being distributed, including being placed on the Internet.”

According to a study done by a medical center in Los Angeles, online ratings were unlikely to be much help when looking for the best doctor. The results suggest that reliable, easy-to-interpret information for how good doctors are at their jobs remains scarce. “Patients are using these online ratings probably more often than they should,” one professor said in an interview.


“It may be that these ratings are a good measure of the front-office service or the interpersonal style of the physician,” said one of the professors and director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai. “We’re not saying that there’s no value to these online ratings — we’re saying don’t confuse those ratings in any way, shape or form with the actual technical skill.”


The researchers say their study provides few answers about how to pick a doctor. “Not to be coy about it, we’re definitely saying, if you’re interested in quality, technical quality, and clinical skills, do not rely on the star ratings. That much is clear.”

The stakes are simply too high to leave this can of worms open. If anyone anywhere can post any kind of review for doctors, this could potentially result in very skewed results. Until Yelp has a way to definitively prove the accuracy of reviews, doctors should not be reviewed on Yelp.


Yelp: Should Doctors be Exempt from Online Reviews

There you have it folks – both sides of the story. It’s a sensitive topic and we get it: HIPAA is crucial to the privacy of the patient and violating it could seriously damage a doctor’s reputation. It’s possible that avoiding online reviews altogether could solve this dilemma, but perhaps there are ways around HIPAA where doctors could respond to online reviews and still protect the privacy of patients.

Do you have an angle we didn’t address? Something we missed? Contribute to the conversation and let us know your thoughts. We’re always looking for fresh insights so email us, message us on Facebook or Tweet us with your argument! We’d love to have you jump into the ring with us!


Matthew Van Deventer

Matthew Van Deventer is a content creator for WebPunch. As a dealer of words he dabbles in journalism and loves a good story, whatever the medium. Matthew lives outside of Denver, CO with his wife, daughter, and pup, Chewy.

Karin Siccardi

Karin Siccardi is a Reputation Defender, Blogger, and Proofreader/Editor at WebPunch. Originally from Oregon, she migrated to Tennessee where she lives with her husband, four children, and the family dog who lounges at her feet as she enjoys the luxury of working from her home office. An avid reader, she enjoys all wordy things as well as coffee, chocolate, and wine.