New Research: IVF success impacts fertility clinic reviews. But how much?

By Griffin Jones

I wish I could say that this new research provides us with all of the answers we've sought, but I think we're left with new questions. That's fine by me, I find it encouraging. We've talked about reproductive endocrinologist (RE) and fertility center reviews, and the psychology behind them. This new data helps us understand how success of treatment impacts the rating of a fertility clinic or fertility doctor review.

Success of ART cycles largely predicts whether an infertility patient will leave a positive or negative infertility clinic review.

Success of ART cycles largely predicts whether an infertility patient will leave a positive or negative infertility clinic review.

The best possible patient ratings are necessary for the growth of the practice. Studies show that among those who sought online physician ratings in 2013, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good ratings and 37 percent had avoided a physician with bad ratings. Further studies reveal that the use of online reviews to select medical practices is rapidly increasing. In addition to the business benefit to the practice, many REs have told me how much they are troubled by negative accounts from patients.

Many of you observed that reviews are very often extremely positive or scathingly negative, with not too many in between. Some contend that reviews aren't based solely on success of treatment, but on many factors including bedside manor, helpfulness of staff, and accessibility. It turns out, both views are correct. From my analysis on both positive and negative reviews, it's clear that people are rating their interaction with the physician or staff. But when I saw so many REs with a three star average from polarized one and five star reviews, I wanted to examine the numbers.

In this phase of the project, I used Yelp as my source. This time, I chose to look at the reviews of practices, instead of individual physicians. Though it should be stated that the two are interchangeable. 

The analysis included:

  • 504 reviews
  • 67 practices
  • 40 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada
60% of all positive IVF clinic reviews include the mention of a baby or pregnancy. 

60% of all positive IVF clinic reviews include the mention of a baby or pregnancy. 

I did not count neutral (three-star) reviews. Of the 504 reviews, 63% were positive and only 37% were negative. This seems to dispel the notion that people are more inclined to leave reviews when they have had a negative experience. Of 319 positive reviews, 286 were five-star ratings and 33 were four-star ratings. Of 185 negative reviews, 142 were one-star ratings and 43 were two-star ratings. This supports the idea that fertility reviews are more likely to be polarized. 

One observation that surprised me was the number of positive reviews that came from people who were said they were still in treatment. 14% of all positive reviews came from this group compared to only 7% of negative reviews. Those categorized under "other treatment" are those who were egg donors, undergoing surgery for reasons other than infertility, people who were having their eggs frozen, etc. When not considering those reviews from people still in treatment or other treatments, positive reviews were 350% more likely to mention a baby or pregnancy than to reference unsuccessful treatment or nothing at all. Negative reviews were 300% more likely to mention leaving the clinic without success than to make no mention at all or to reference a baby or pregnancy. 

With the recent analyses of positive and negative reviews, and with this phase of the project, we have some data to make further hypotheses. You're free to draw your own conclusions, but I'm left with the following lesson.

Fertility clinic reviews are stories. However, the stories are not about the RE or the fertility center. Rather, the physician and the practice are characters in the story. Looking at the patterns, only 2 % of positive reviews say that their treatment was unsuccessful and only 2 % of negative reviews mention a baby or pregnancy. If a patient is able to conceive using assisted reproductive technology (ART), the RE will most likely be cast as the hero of the story. It is far less likely that the patient will leave a positive review if their treatment was unsuccessful. The role of the hero won't be offered to you. Maybe that's okay.  Because most of the time, it appears that we can prevent you from being cast as the villain.

The most common word used to describe REs in negative reviews is "rude". As one very highly rated Illinois RE told me, "I can't imagine my colleagues would ever be deliberately rude. Yet, given the emotional state of the patient, they're perceived this way." Meanwhile, the most common adjective used to describe REs in positive reviews is "knowledgeable". No one can become board-certified in reproductive endocrinology and infertility without being knowledgeable. Still, it's only when the account is positive is this quality attributed to the physician. They appear to be character traits, decided by the author of the story.

63% of all negative fertility clinic reviews explicitly mention leaving the clinic without a baby or pregnancy.

63% of all negative fertility clinic reviews explicitly mention leaving the clinic without a baby or pregnancy.

Thankfully, the research does not seem to conclude that physicians and practices are doomed to receive negative reviews at a rate relative to unsuccessful ART cycles. There are dozens of REs and some fertility centers in the United States and Canada with very few to no negative reviews. At first look, their reviews follow the patterns above. To me, this suggests that for various reasons, the patients do not feel compelled to publicly project their frustration and emotional pain on to the practice after an unsuccessful treatment. I'm interested in investigating those reasons.

I believe that being able to identify those reasons and convert them into actionable habits will greatly improve the experience of the patient, and consequently spare the fertility center and the physician from public chastising. It would be injudicious to suggest that we can eliminate negative reviews entirely, but it seems we can certainly minimize them, and thereby reduce your number of sleepless nights.

We will continue our investigation of public patient feedback to identify the habits that lead to more positive patient reviews of REs and fertility clinics, ensuring sustained growth for the practice, and a better experience for the patient.

Use patient reviews to improve the patient experience and acquire "word of mouth referrals". Read chapter 2 of my absolutely free e-book, Digital Marketing for Fertility Centers: How to Use Digital Media to Attract New IVF Patients in 2016.