American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

How reliable are online reviews for plastic surgery?

online reviews for plastic surgery

Patients often choose their plastic surgeon based on online reviews. At their best, reviews reflect real patients' honest experience with a doctor, staff and sometimes the hospital or facility where the care was delivered. While a doctor's website is often reliable, there is nonetheless the potential for bias, so patients often rely on online reviews to offer "social proof."

In fact, looking at online reviews is the first step in choosing a physician for nearly three out of four patients. Among those with a solid referral to a doctor, one in five patients validates that recommendation through online reviews.

Online reviews developed out of a lack of available and transparent information about choosing doctors. Now patients can use Google, Yelp, RealSelf, Facebook, Healthgrades, Vitals, RateMDs, Vizium 360 and RateMDs to check out their surgeons. The type of surgery they perform will impact their presence on review websites.

Private practitioners, particularly those performing cosmetic plastic surgery, are most likely to be reviewed on Google and Yelp. Academic reconstructive surgeons and those employed by an HMO are least likely to have any online reviews.

Google, Facebook and Yelp are the top three consumer reviewer websites, but their popularity varies by geographic region. They are most likely to feature cosmetic practices. Vitals and Healthgrades are more likely to feature reconstructive and other insurance-based physicians.

Overview of review websites

As you explore your potential online reviews, you should be aware of the nuances of each website.

Google: Unless a user has a Gmail account under a pseudonym, cosmetic patients may be less likely to post a review, than, say, a skin cancer patient, so this can limit the number of patients voicing their opinions about a practice.

Facebook: Like Google, patient reviews are not anonymous unless the reviewer has an account under a pseudonym, there is no verification process, so anyone can leave a review.

Yelp: Yelp requires a reviewer to post under a first name and the first letter of the last name. Yelp hides reviews, and has been sued over this practice, but the courts have determined that that is their right. Since the reviews hidden are often positive, the result may be a negative slant on a good plastic surgical practice. Physicians advertising on Yelp have greater visibility.

RealSelf: RealSelf is a healthcare marketplace restricted to aesthetics, breast reconstruction and facial reconstruction. RealSelf verifies that reviewers are true patients, so they are allowed to post anonymously under a pseudonym. For a monthly fee, RealSelf boosts all of the doctor's content.

Vizium360: Vizium360 is a patient experience management tool paid for by the plastic surgeon. Only verified patients write the reviews.

Healthgrades and Vitals: Both of these websites focus is on healthcare, not plastic surgery. Patients can post anonymously.

Review sites are businesses

Review companies can help patients, but they are businesses that often charge doctors for greater visibility. The 2019 documentary "Billion Dollar Bully," shows the darker side of how Yelp operates.

Reviews written by patients who are paid to do so in some way are considered tainted by the industry, as are reviews written by a plastic surgeon's staff or family. Review companies know that patients are looking for the opinions of unbiased, uncompensated patients without a personal or working relationship with the doctor. This is not always the case, however, because those relationships are hard to discover.

Positive Reviews: If a surgeon has a lot of reviews, look at common themes among reviewers. Are patients happy with their results? Does the staff answer the phone? Do patients feel cared for?

Negative Reviews: Not all negative reviews are based on a real patient experience. Disgruntled ex-employees, competitors and online reputation management companies looking for business may be the ones leave a one-star review. The most important factors to patients leaving reviews are surgical outcome, interactions with staff and the quality of their care after surgery. The cost of surgery doesn't seem to impact patient satisfaction.

What's next?

Now that you know what you look for in plastic surgery reviews, you can use Plastic Surgery Connect service to find a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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