Why Realself Can’t be Trusted

7 minute read

Realself.com is a great resource for those seeking cosmetic treatments. The trouble with realself, unlike other esteemed reviews sites such as Yelp, is that the sole income of realself is from doctors willing to pay to advertise their profile throughout the site. This immediately creates a schism pitting the honest user against the site owners. The premise is simple: Create a platform that makes it easy for a doctor to advertise and be given a good favorable rating in order for that doctor to continue his/her yearly subscription fee and advertisement opportunities.

At realself, the doctor is the customer and the patient is the product

The doctors are the paying customers and like all services, the paying customer gets preferable treatment (and why shouldn’t they!).

As already pointed out before, plastic surgeons are salespeople first and surgeons last. Public image is everything for them unlike other doctors who work in a hospital settings will have patients come to them regardless of online reputation. Realself is a critical tool for them to leverage their reviews.

Beckham, a recruiter who lives in Bristol, Va., says most information about plastic surgery on the Internet is paid for by doctors or medical companies with an interest in doing the work - forbes on realself.com

Realself gives these people a soap box to project and gain clicks even though they are not legitimate.

No regulation on positive feedback

Realself has a lot to say about what they do to combat fake negative reviews, but no mention of positive reviews.

When a RealSelf community member submits feedback about a provider, we contact the provider to confirm their level of contact* with the person who sent the feedback (from receiving a lead to giving a consultation or performing a treatment). If it appears the feedback was submitted fraudulently or is a duplicate, RealSelf will disregard it.

No fact-checking is performed on positive reviews….

Negative reviews must be countered with positive ones

This is what realself has to say to doctors when it comes to receiving a negative review:

A single review is rarely the only information a consumer bases their decision on when choosing a doctor. Most consumers will see the other positive reviews on your profile.

Don’t wait for this negative review to surface and be the only review that represents your practice. Make it part of you and your staff’s regular process to ask every patient to share their story online. The more positive reviews you have, the less important the negative review will be in the bigger picture.

While this is all true, it directly recommends the practice to get more positive reviews that will never be flagged or fact-checked in being honest. There is no location on realself that talks about confirming ALL reviews.

Negative reviews are filtered to the bottom

Realself is all about self-promotion for the doctors. After all, they are the paying customers and its beset to show their best face. The default view is to show the highest rated reviews. Bad reviews are viewed last! One would assume that the most recent reviews would show up first, but that is entirely false!

The “Default” view is on the left, and the “Recent” view is on the right.

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Notice how the negative review only shows up after the consumer filters it properly. How embarrassing too for the doctor since someone exposed this guy for not being a real plastic surgeon. Better hide that one!

Realself allows non-board certified plastic surgeons

It would seem obvious to an innocent bystander to only allow qualified board-certified plastic surgeons to comment on plastic surgery questions on a plastic surgery platform such as realself. However, this is not what happens on realself. Any MD can write a response.

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They carefully articulated this so that they can allow non-board certified plastic surgeons from answering questions. It is left vague for a reason. This allows non-qualified doctors that may not even be surgeons to give bad advice to potential patients.

Why is it allowed to have a Cardiologist give liposuction and Brazilian Buttlift (BBL) advice?

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Here is another non-plastic surgeon commenting on liposuction techniques, yet he himself is only a family doctor!

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This was verified on the AZ State Medical Board. Sometimes you have to literally go to the state medical board to verify this information since even their clinic’s “About” page won’t even mention their true background and certification.

This all begs the question - Why does realself not allow users to post Medical advice, yet allow doctors to post medical advice when they themselves are also not qualified?

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Q&A are filtered based on paid subscriptions and not quality

Realself has this to say about their answers, noting how a quality answer may be filtered lower due to the doctors status on the website and how much money he/she is contributing

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Extremely easy to fake reviews

Reviews are written by real people and providers can’t pay to have reviews removed. All reviews meeting our guidelines are shown.

If this is true, why then was I allowed to create an obvious fake account and fake review with text I borrowed from this previous review

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A commenter on that review also points out correctly:

posting like this seems advertisement for the doctor. please share your experience and pictures to vouchsafe your rating of the doctor. That will immensely help the doctor and also you can feel proud that you gave correct information otherwise you know there are so many money minting doctors in this field

All that is required to post 5-star review is a valid email address for doctors outside of the US and a review about a doctor inside the US just requires a cell phone number to confirm a code. Temporary phone lookup websites exist to easily bypass this restriction. If I was able to do this in under 5 minutes, imagine what a determined office could do.

Existing Criticism

Sites exist such as sitejabber where 60 people have complainined about realself censoring their negative reviews. Their are also honest complaints about how Realself allows 5-star reviews even though the reviewer has not even had the procedure yet!

A thorough reddit post covers a lot of information as to why realself should also not be considered a good resource.

Summary

Realself should be used a tool to supplement your research. The only reviews that should be considered are the ones with pictures. As the saying goes:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (Carl Sagan)

100 reviews with boastful comments, yet no pictures in any of them? Time to move on.

Also, realself DOES claim to not remove negative reviews as long as they don’t violate their TOS, but that doesn’t mean they take a proactive measure in verifying positive reviews which has clearly been the case as already seen in this article.

Buyer beware

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