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April 4, 2018

We are not a restaurant: Why Yelp is useless in reviewing healthcare providers and treatment centers.

Consumers rely more and more upon social media sites to educate themselves about restaurants, electronics, movies, books and other products and services. For the most part, online reviews can be helpful. I use them when researching new restaurants, buying products, looking for a hotel, etc. However, it has been demonstrated that many Amazon reviews are not always legitimate – some reviewers have been paid or they receive free merchandise. Similarly, Yelp does very little to screen fraudulent or dishonest reviews. To the contrary, they have ruined some small businesses by filtering away positive reviews and featuring negative ones. Some say that they do this to compel companies to advertise with them (our most negative reviews appeared after we declined advertising with Yelp). While Yelp denies this, there have been several class-action lawsuits around this very Issue. It is difficult to prove as they always deflect to their “filter algorithm” and deny that advertising with them affects ratings. However, it is striking that some of the worst treatment centers in our industry average 4 to 5 star ratings and are large advertisers with Yelp. Some of the best clinical programs that do not advertise with Yelp have two and three star rating averages.

I would contend that to a careful consumer, Yelp reviews of certain businesses such as restaurants, hotels, auto repair shops and retail shops can be useful. These types of businesses receive a large volume of customers each day and they often receive multiple reviews per day. Although they may have some angry consumers who leave negative reviews, the many positive reviews divert customers’ attention away from the bad reviews. Which brings me to why Yelp is relatively useless when reviewing treatment centers, and particularly psychological and addiction treatment centers.

Our Yelp experience has been an increasingly frustrating one. We treat many difficult and dysregulated clients and their families. The majority of our clients do very well. We have a unique treatment model and an incredibly talented and experienced staff. Our program has proven very effective over the past eight years. If you look at our unedited testimonials on our own webpage you will see multiple positive and often life-changing experiences from our former clients. While many of these clients have offered to speak to our prospective clients and families about their experiences, many have expressed to us that they are reluctant to post anything on a public forum, as they value their anonymity. In other words, the vast majority of our clients do not want to post publicly on social media that they were in a treatment program, no matter how good their outcome was. We entirely understand this and in the case of addiction programs, it highlights why the largest organization is called Alcoholics Anonymous!

We have had the unfortunate experiences where a few former clients, family members, competitors and paid planted ‘clients’ posted distorted or even entirely falsified experiences in Yelp and other social media review sites. Because we are precluded from responding directly to their posts due to confidentiality and HIPAA laws (at least in cases where we have had a clinical relationship) we are unable to refute their false information. For example, a neighbor of one of our treatment homes repeatedly posts negative and inflammatory reviews on Facebook because he does not want a treatment center on his street. But he writes reviews as though he has been a client. Another angry parent is unhappy with the therapeutic outcome and transfer to higher level of care and is demanding a full refund even though we provided a high level of treatment for most of the treatment cycle. She has posted multiple inaccurate and extremely hostile reviews on several social media websites.

On rare occasion, we have had to ask a client to leave our program for safety reasons or because they violated our drug and alcohol policy. It is invariably these clients who are ready and able to write a negative review about our program. And unfortunately, Yelp will not filter or remove these reviews no matter how incomplete, distorted or dishonest the information in the review. We have a current post from a fraudulent reviewer who calls himself Vladimir Putin, who did not attend and was never a client at our treatment center. He came for a tour and then fabricated a post disparaging our treatment center and discussing a competing treatment center in the review. We have another review from a person who never entered our center who is actually directing customers to another treatment center in the review and Yelp will not remove it. And finally, there is a presumably paid review from a person who has written one star Yelp reviews of at least 20 treatment providers and centers. In his review he provides links to his own “natural products” that he sells. Yelp did not filter nor remove this fraudulent review despite a clear violation of their terms of service, and it continues to negatively impact our overall rating score.

I looked at several other treatment centers in our area and almost all have similar negative reviews. It is easy to discern that many of their negative reviews are not legitimate. It seems that those centers that have paid Yelp have fewer of their positive reviews filtered. We have at least seven legitimate 5 star reviews from former clients and family that have been filtered as “not recommended by Yelp” (you can see these with some searching at the bottom of our Yelp business page).

Despite all of this, we do encourage all prospective clients to be careful and educated consumers and to obtain as much information as possible in making such a difficult and life-changing decision. We pride ourselves on helping you to find the best treatment center for your particular issues (and sometimes that is not PCH) as we realize the importance of the decision and realize that many consumers have only one chance to “get it right.” But we do encourage you to investigate using credible sources, which include our own former clients and families, the Better Business Bureau (where we have an A+ Rating), and other professionals in our industry (where we have an excellent reputation for highly ethical and effective treatment).

Thank you for reading this and for considering PCH Treatment Center for yourself or your family member. And don’t hesitate to call us if you have further questions or concerns about our program or our social media reviews.

Jeff Ball, PhD
Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director
PCH Treatment Center

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