Using Yelp to Rate Dentists

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m going to try something new for thethirdmolar. I initially planned to update this blog every three or four weeks, but events and activities happen so frequently that updating once month would require multiple subheadings for each post. So instead, I have three back-to-back posts from earlier this month, and then I hope to update thethirdmolar either weekly or biweekly.

Below, a post from Thursday, October 6th.

Four panelists came to talk to our D1 class today! They discussed their journey from dental school to private practice, and their experiences as dentists. Two were general dentists, one was an orthodontist, and the fourth was a periodontist. Three of them were actively involved in organized dentistry, and the topic of interest was Yelp. ‘What is Yelp?’, you may ask. Yelp is a website and a mobile app that allows registered users to write reviews, post pictures, and leave tips for patrons interested in local businesses. Business owners can also create their own accounts to ‘claim’ a business in order to provide additional information and respond to reviews.

There has always been some controversy surrounding Yelp. Fake posts from ghost accounts can easily affect an establishment’s ratings, so Yelp has an internal algorithm to remove such posts and their associated accounts. However, friends (or rivals) of a small business owner can pull up (or drag down) a restaurant’s ratings by legitimately reviewing en masse. In fact, some business owners have been caught for paying Yelp users to write positive Yelp posts! On the other hand, a number of lawsuits have been filed against Yelp for extortion. Yelp employees have allegedly threatened business owners to feature negative reviews and suppress positive reviews if they do not pay for advertising. There’s a documentary in the making. It’s a tenuous relationship between Yelp and business owners.

Yelp became the topic of interest after one classmate asked about how dentists dealt with poor Yelp reviews and the threat of negative reviews. One dentist encountered this situation when a patient posted a scathing negative review about her practice. She was worried, so she contacted the California Dental Association (CDA). CDA’s recommendation was to not engage publicly with the patient on Yelp, lest her practice violate HIPAA standards. For example, if she really wanted to address the situation via Yelp, she could reply with, ‘if you are a patient of Dr. XYZ, please come into our office …’

Another panelist agreed that negative reviews are worrisome. However, she also acknowledged that 1 or 2 negative Yelp reviews can actually legitimatize one’s practice! For instance, if a dentist has 30 raving 5-star reviews, potential patients may think that the dentist encouraged his or her friends to solely praise the practice. On the other hand, if a dentist also has 30 reviews, of which 1 or 2 are extremely negative, potential patients may simply brush off the 1-star review(s) as anomalous.

I found the discussion interesting because I created two Yelp pages for a dentist that I shadowed during my undergraduate years. He has since thanked me for creating the Yelp pages, but I never asked him about whether or not Yelp had affected his practice in any way.

In the end, the dentists on the panel came to a consensus that negative Yelp reviews aren’t consequential, as long as you act ethically and treat your patients with empathy. I couldn’t agree more — but the panel left me with a few questions.

  1. How would you find a new dentist? (Recommendations from family?Recommendations from friends?  Recommendations from your primary care provider? Google? Yelp?)
  2. After identifying a new healthcare provider, to what extent would you weigh online reviews (i.e. Google reviews, Yelp reviews, etc.) compared to other sources of information?
  3. Do you think Yelp is an appropriate forum for patients to evaluate their healthcare providers?

Do you have other questions? Share your thoughts below!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. I appreciate the detail in this article. Well written and too the point!


  2. It really’s challenging to select the reliable dental service, however after reading, this piece it made me think a
    lot and I will definitely attempt o use your suggestions in the future.


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