Online reviews and patient testimonials can be very helpful to make an informed choice when looking for a new dentist. However, as with any other type of customer ratings, not all reviews are truthful. According to research, generally, there are two types of untruthful opinions:

  • phony positive reviews meant to boost overall ratings;
  • fake malicious reviews aimed at damaging the dentist’s reputation.

In either case, illegitimate reviews are a disservice both for patients and dental practices.

At first glance, forged positive reviews seem problematic only for patients. They are deceitful and might trick potential patients into visiting a dental practice with questionable service quality.

Nonetheless, bogus positive reviews are also detrimental to dentists. Firstly, because people are getting more and more wary of fake testimonials. Practices with misleading reviews and ratings can quickly lose credibility. And secondly, setting high expectations can backfire if the dental practice is unable to deliver superior service quality. In return, this can generate a lot of genuine negative reviews from misled patients.
Fake negative reviews can dissuade potential patients from visiting a dental practice without a legitimate reason. A DentaVox survey found that after reading a negative review, 37% of people will not book an appointment with the dental practice. So, patients can miss a chance of being treated by a good dentist based on false information.

So, how to identify inaccurate reviews? According to research by Cornell, it is not so easy for people to judge which reviews are genuine. In fact, the capability of identifying deceptive reviews is close to picking by chance. However, there are telltales, which can help you recognize unauthentic feedback.

Here are the four aspects to look into when wondering if a review is real or not:

Reviewer’s identifying info

A study found that deceivers tend to share less identification information about themselves. Furthermore, other cues to raise suspicion are missing profile names and images, generic names like John Smith or elusive usernames without identifying info, e.g. “patient99”.

Review content and language

Untruthful testimonials can be spotted by the tone and essence of the text. They are often characterized by:

  • Use of marketing phrases and overly praising tone

When a testimonial sounds more like a commercial than common speech, it is unlikely to be written by a real patient. A hyperbolic tone is another strong indicator of unauthentic reviews.

  • Lack of details 

A Cornell study showed that more focus on setting the context and less mention of concrete words describing specifics about the services and premises is typical for forged reviews. Although the study analyzed hotel reviews in particular, the results demonstrate clear differences between real and fake reviews, which can be applied to the context of dental care. For instance, mentioning particular treatments, the appointment process, team member names speaks of a truthful review. Whereas, fraudulent reviews are more vague, mentioning general terms like “amazing service”, “complete makeover”, etc.

  • Frequent use of first-person pronouns

In an attempt to establish themselves as genuine, false reviewers tend to use more first-person pronouns such as “I” and “me”. In natural language, it will look odd to use “I” in every sentence, especially in short texts.

  • More verbs than nouns

Another cue for detecting “opinion spam” is the use of more verbs in imaginative writing than nouns, according to the Cornell study.

  • Too short review

Genuine reviews tend to be longer than fake ones. Very short testimonials or star ratings without supporting text might indicate that the writer is not a real patient. Hence, it is difficult to think of what to include in the review.

  • Balanced reviews 

Usually, patient experiences are complex and multi-faceted. It is very rare to have only bad or positive impressions. That is why for testimonials with a more balanced account of the patient experience there is a higher chance to represent truthful opinions. Although we should take into account that it is not impossible to have strong negative feelings after a completely disappointing treatment. Moreover, the way people describe their experiences can be influenced by their personality.

Spikes in review volume

Too many reviews in a short timespan on otherwise empty profiles can indicate suspicious activity from “opinion spammers”. Although possible to be related to a particular campaign encouraging patients to leave feedback, it still raises a flag for potentially false ratings.

Verification status

After proving that the patient visited the dental office, some specialized review platforms differentiate the patient feedback as “verified”. For example, Dentacoin Trusted Reviews clearly marks such reviews as “Trusted”. Reviewers are authenticated as real patients when they submit a review upon receiving an individual invite link from their dentist. This gives good guidance for readers of which reviews are genuine.

Can you take action against fake reviews?

There are different terms, depending on the platform. Usually, untruthful reviews can be reported. After being checked by a site admin, the false testimonial can be removed. However, note that in some cases there is a lack of sufficient evidence to determine the review authenticity. From the dentist’s perspective, the good news is that you can counter the adverse effects with a well-written response. As a patient, it is highly recommended to compare feedback on more than one site before making up your mind.