Is my doctor astroturfing his online reviews?
November 16, 2011 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I have a consultation with a plastic surgeon in NYC to talk about tattoo removal next week. I made the appointment based on unanimously glowing reviews posted online. Now, reading through the reviews again, I've been struck by certain details that make me wonder if these comments are mostly an astroturfing campaign. I've been waiting awhile for my appointment, so I don't want to cancel if I'm just being paranoid. Help me out, Mefi Sleuths.

On, it seems that most reviewers have only posted once, on the day they reviewed the doctor.

Citysearch is the same story.

On, the reviews come in two big bursts. One in February 2011 and another in June 2010, with silence in-between. (to see reviews, scroll to "26 ratings (click here)" and click)

The reviewer JadeC posted the same review across RealSelf, MakeMeHeal, and Vitals all on February 21, 2011. It's her only activity on any of the sites.

There is a very similar voice throughout the reviews. Everyone sounds very sensible and no one ever says anything off-color. Sentences are always capitalized properly (including brand names like "Juvederm" and "Smartlipo").

I know I can be paranoid and I was very excited about this appointment until this morning, so I would love to be told that I'm imagining things.
posted by specialfriend to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a heads-up, there are some NSFW photos in the link.
posted by BurntHombre at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2011

I think your suspicions are valid. Although I'd like to point out that this isn't like Yelp; how many patients are likely to visit more than one plastic surgeon?
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:53 AM on November 16, 2011

Maybe the very fact that you have had to wait a while for an appointment speaks to the fact the Dr is busy and therefore doing something right to get clients.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:05 AM on November 16, 2011

I think you're absolutely right. Every one of those reviews on the first link reads like it was written by the same person. The headlines of the reviews are a neat lineup of the services he offers. Everyone refers to him as "Dr. S." This is totally astroturfing.
posted by jon1270 at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like astroturfing to me. However, that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with his medical skills. He could just be clueless about online stuff, or maybe his wife did it and he isn't even aware.

Can you not find a personal referral to somebody? Tattoo removal is not that uncommon these days. Doctors and dentists are still one area that I try to rely 100% on somebody I know, or at least a friend of a friend, providing a personal recommendation.
posted by COD at 11:17 AM on November 16, 2011

Yeah, the reviews that don't have a "Dr. S" in them have a "Dr. Shafer" or "David Shafer" in them. Combined with the consistent good grammar and spelling, you're right to be suspicious.
posted by griphus at 11:17 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I perused RealSelf a bit more out of curiosity and noticed something else: every single "featured review" they post, for every doctor they list, seems to be a five-star review. I found only one doctor, out of maybe 15 or so that I looked at, who had less than a five-star rating. That rating was four stars, base on one review, and that review was not visible. RealSelf appears to be veilied paid advertising, not a legitimate review site at all.
posted by jon1270 at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

These reviews are certainly fake, and that's sleazy and unethical. You can keep the appointment if you want, but why not get a recommendation to another doctor who isn't so devoted to falsely inflating his reputation? Personally, I might keep the appointment (assuming it was a free consultation) just to ask the guy why he feels compelled to astroturf.
posted by Scram at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2011

Call the doctor's office, ask for the names and numbers of several patients who are willing to be referrals. If they can't/won't -- probably citing patient privacy -- then meet with this doc, but consult with at least one more before proceeding. (I've been asked to be a referral for at least two doctors, so it's not completely unknown.)
posted by kestralwing at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hey! I've been speaking with a lot of plastic surgeons and consultants about this very thing for a work project. It is very common for plastic surgeons (by no means all do this or even a majority! there are plenty of good ones out there!) to post fake reviews for their services online.

This doesn't mean he is an incompetent doctor, but it doesn't exactly point to a five-star physician, either.

The best way to research plastic surgeons is to find someone who also got a tattoo removed—someone whose results you like—and find out who they did it. Get a couple of different doctors opinions, if you have the time.
posted by good day merlock at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd hop on one of the many plastic surgery forums and search for mentions of him or go ahead and post an inquiry if anyone has used him for anything. A quick search for "plastic surgery forum" will provide you with plenty of options.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even if the reviews didn't seem fake-y, none of them are pertinent to the service you'd want provided. If you can't get a personal referral, I'd check out a tattoo forum for ideas instead - hopefully with pictures. You might even ask a tattoo artist.

Is it a free consultation? If so, you don't have much to lose, except time, to hear him out and SEE some results. If it's paid, well, personally I wouldn't bother.
posted by sm1tten at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2011

Do you have health insurance? Even if this isn't covered, ask them to help you rate the doctor on number of post-operative infections, and whatever other metrics are valid. And ask for pictures of his work. People who get plastic surgery are unlikely to think it looks bad, but some people look kind of odd after.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 PM on November 16, 2011

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