Too often, I read an online review of a fertility clinic, in which the person says they wish they would have read other reviews before choosing that practice. In doing your online research, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the reported experiences of other people, to help inform your decision. More than just a few times, I have read reviews where the person regrets choosing the fertility clinic despite reading negative reviews, sometimes because they followed the advice of a friend.
Whenever I make a serious decision in life, I first want to speak to as many like-minded people as I can. I look for people who I feel share my profile and I deeply explore their experiences. For you, as a person coping with infertility, this will include consulting the #infertility and #ttc communities on social media, going to peer support group meetings, and thoroughly reading online reviews.
Part of what I do for a living is help fertility centers and doctors improve their online reputation. There's no real shortcut here. You can't delete reviews that other people write about you on the internet. In a 2016 world, practices need to make sure you have the best experience possible. If you're satisfied with the effort and attention that you received from your care team, you won't leave a negative review. If you're delighted, you will want to tell the world. That's better advertising than they could ever purchase. Fertility practices greatly benefit when they have a stellar online reputation, but that benefit belongs first and foremost to you. Online reviews exist for the people reading them, not the people they are about.
I've written guidelines for fertility centers on how to respond to both negative and positive reviews. Now I want to share that experience with you so you can use fertility doctor reviews to avoid regrets and find the best fit for you. Here are seven things to keep in mind when finding a fertility center:
1). Check multiple review sites. Different review sites are more widely used in different cities. Check these nine sites to see which have the most reviews in your area. Simply enter your city, state, or province into their search field, and select the corresponding specialty.
- RateMDs: Reproductive Endocrinologist
- ZocDoc: Infertility Specialist
- Vitals: Reproductive Endocrinologist
- Healthgrades: Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
- UCompareHealthCare: Reproductive Endocrinology
- Fertility Authority: Fertility Doctor or Fertility Clinic
- Yelp: Fertility
- Google Reviews: Appears in the Google+ frame of a search for the clinic/doctor's name
- Facebook: Usually linked to the practice's website
2). Read beyond the star rating. In my opinion, Vitals, Healthgrades, Fertility Authority, and UCompareHealthCare, are the least helpful of the above options when searching for a fertility clinic. I suppose if there are enough responses, then it helps to see if someone has a two star or a five star rating. Still, I think these sites are better designed for a chriopractor or a dentist; a specialty where a rating on timeliness and billing would suffice.
You know all too well that infertility is much more emotionally involved than that. I recommend diligently reading the comments. ZocDocs, Google Reviews, Yelp, RateMDs, and Facebook are sites where the star rating is accompanied by a comment (you know, an actual review). Read as many as you can. If there are enough, you will be able to get a better idea of the practice or doctor.
3). Read as many reviews as you can find. Two or three samples won't show you a complete picture of the personality of a physician or the culture of a practice. Thirty will. Look for recurring themes. If eight out of nineteen reviewers call the doctor "arrogant", or fourteen people say she "is the most compassionate person ever", that is probably more reliable feedback.
4). Be aware of the bias that exists because that bias matters. Positive reviews are far more likely to come from people who became pregnant and negative reviews are far more likely to come from those who did not. In a study I conducted in 2015, I found that positive reviews are three times more likely to mention a baby or a pregnancy than to mention unsuccessful treatment or to make no mention at all. Equally, negative reviews are three times more likely to mention a lack of success than to reference a baby/pregnancy or to make no mention at all.
This is massively important because, as a prospective patient, you should know that no one can guarantee a 100% probability of success. There are several doctors and practices with very few negative reviews. This isn't because their IVF success rates are at 85%--that doesn't exist. It's because of their bedside manor, helpfulness, compassion, reliability, and communication. All of these things matter to your choice, because the clinical result of a pregnancy is not the only factor in your experience. A physician or clinic with many authentic positive reviews and few negative ones is more likely to properly set and manage your expectations.
5). Utilize Facebook: With regard to the above, know that Facebook reviews for fertility centers are far more likely to be positive than negative. My untested hypothesis is that this is because we generally use our real names and identities on Facebook, as opposed to a username (Yelp) or remaining unidentified (Ratemds). Recalling a negative experience may be too emotionally burdensome for someone to associate with themselves so personally and yet so publicly. In my personal opinion, a fertility center with less than a four and a half star rating on Facebook is not a good sign. For other sites, a good practice and team could still feasibly have a three and a half star rating. Again the number of reviews matters (at least ten).
6). Message the reviewers. Sometimes people will leave their contact information in their review, because they would love to answer your questions and share their experience. In the case of Google+, Yelp, and Facebook, you have the opportunity to click on that person's name and send them a message. Take advantage of that! If it were 1996 instead of 2016, you would have to wait outside of the fertility practice like a creep to ask people what it was like. Today, those that want to share their experience are doing so publicly. There's no magic number of conversations that you should have, so let's call it five.
- Tell them what your greatest concerns are.
- Ask them what their greatest concerns were.
- Were their concerns relieved or confirmed?
- What did they learn from their experience that they wish they had known before?
7). Leave your own review after your experience. At least one, on the site that you found most helpful. If you go to the deli to buy a $5 sandwich, and you're not satisfied, you don't have to tell the world. Anyone can live with the consequence of a mediocre lunch. With your journey, aren't you almost compelled to offer your experience so that someone can make a more informed decision? With the emotional cargo, financial burden, and uncertainty that characterizes the infertility journey, aren't you obliged to warn or make recommendations to others? There are countless couples and individuals that share the same concerns as you and your partner; your opinion could really help them. Use a site where you leave your real name or one where you remain completely anonymous, depending on your personal preference. It's not my place to say, but I think that the prospective patient population would be much better served if every person that underwent fertility treatment left an online review afterward: good, bad, or neutral.
Take advantage of the wisdom of others
Online reviews don't exist to benefit hotels, restaurants, vacation destinations, products, or medical practices. They exist to benefit guests, patrons, consumers, and patients. Fertility clinic reviews are channels for you to share your experience and the purpose of these channels is to benefit other people facing choices similar to ones you have faced. If you are considering a fertility doctor or practice for the first time, please, don't just look at their website. Take advantage of the wisdom of others who will be able to greatly inform your decision. If you are a veteran of fertility treatment, please give others something to consider by writing an online review.
Did you read reviews before you chose your fertility practice or are you using them now? What have you discovered?