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MyView: The Wild West of online reviews

September 03, 2018

By Donald Hills, D.D.S.

Photo of Dr. Hills
Donald Hills, D.D.S.
Out of curiosity, today I opened an email I would normally delete. I learned that there apparently is a way for me to "cheat the system" and stack online reviews in my favor. Little did I know, I could "beat" the competition, leave all the foolish dentists in my wake and cheat my way to two-dozen, five-star Google reviews each month. There is so much wrong with the online world described in this email, so where do I begin?

There was a time, not too long ago, when a caring professional provided quality treatment and could expect kind word-of-mouth advertising to grow his practice.  I would like to think that still exists. Unfortunately, in today's hyper-socialized online world, the Wild West has taken over.  We all expect some deception in traditional advertising, resulting in our conditioning to question claims made in ads. However, the social aspect of online reviews, for better or worse, obscures our ability to see through the fog of self-expression and we accept the descriptions as more accurate than prudence would dictate.

There are exceptions to the potential deception of online reviews. The engineers and programmers at Yelp, for instance, have spent 10 years fine-tuning their software to recognize planted reviews, bogus claims, malicious fabrications and the like.  Sadly, many online review sites, even very popular sites, have no protocols in place to vouch for the accuracy of the evaluations. Anyone can post anything, about anyone, anytime and that is truly frightening. But does it have to be?

Two-dozen, five-star Google reviews a month, peddled so tastelessly in the email I read today, simply does not exist. No rational patient would fall for such nonsense, not to mention the absurd expectation such reviews create.

In reality, online evaluations made by patients are not much different from the way patients shared their opinions and recommendations with each other 20 years ago. The uniqueness about online evaluations today is the sheer size of the potential audience and the anonymity of some posting sites. We have to ask, does it really matter? I would suggest that to be the very best dentist, be kind and empathetic, be fair, be honest, treat everyone like you would treat your spouse or child and your online reviews will be positive. If your office is messy, poorly run, if the staff is unreceptive or rude, or the treatment is substandard, then you certainly must expect online reviews to reflect that as well.  

Most of us have embraced technology and incorporated state-of-the-art equipment into our offices. The digital age allows us to provide superior care, from better diagnostic images to unsurpassed marginal integrity. The ship has sailed on 20th century dentistry, and 21st century social media has changed how patients inquire and learn about a dental practice.

Online reviews are firmly ensconced in today's world of social media and are here to stay. I am certainly troubled about the anonymity of some sites, as people can be more critical when their identity is unknown. Yet, fortunately, patients do recognize quality and caring dental treatment and will post positive online reviews.  My advice to you is to be persistent. As wild as the online review world is, with time your online reviews should accurately portray and reflect the positive environment in your office.   

This editorial, reprinted with permission, first appeared in the Sept.-Dec. 2017 issue of the Nassau County Dental Society Bulletin from New York.