Don’t Take Negative Online Reviews Lying Down

Fourth Quarter 2011Articles Staying Well Within the Law

Thanks to the Internet, it is now easier than ever for unhappy patients to express their discontent for all the world to see. If you or your practice has not yet been the subject of a negative online review, there’s a reasonably good chance you might be in the future. Online physician rating web sites are proliferating, and it is becoming increasingly common for disgruntled patients to vent their frustrations on the Internet. Even worse, many of these web sites permit anonymous posting, so you may not even know who your detractor is. Unfortunately, case law generally exempts rating web sites from liability provided they are only facilitating publication of the personal opinions of posters. None of this, however, means you must take a negative online review lying down. Medicine is, of course, a very personal profession, and a physician’s reputation is one of his or her most valuable professional assets. Physicians should be proactive about protecting it.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • First, remember the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to keep disgruntled patients from posting negative reviews online is not to have any disgruntled patients in the first place. This means in practice that physicians should treat every patient with respect and take every patient’s concerns seriously. Patients who express dissatisfaction in the office should have the opportunity to voice their concerns, and every effort should be made to try to address the issues before the patient leaves. In addition, provide customer service training for key office personnel who have direct contact with patients.
  • Even providing the best customer service will not guarantee that some patients will not be unhappy with your services. It is important therefore to regularly monitor your online “image.” You should routinely (at least monthly) conduct an online search of your name and your practice’s name to see if comments have been posted on any web sites. Some search engines allow you to set up an “alert” to notify you by e-mail if your name appears on a web site.
  • If you know who an online “poster” is, consider calling the individual and attempting to work through the concerns he or she has expressed online. If you are able to address the patient’s current concerns to his or her satisfaction, see if the individual would be willing to retract the online comments.
  • Consider developing a “canned” online response that you can post in reply to negative comments. The response should neither attack the poster nor admit fault. Rather it should express the practice’s commitment to providing high-quality care and customer service to each patient and acknowledge that unfortunately not every patient will be happy with the circumstances or outcome of the care received.
  • Review the web site’s “terms of use” to see if the posting complies with them. Some web sites prohibit posters from personally naming or attacking an individual physician or claiming malpractice on the part of a physician. If you believe a posting does not conform to the terms of use, there is typically a mechanism to report the posting and often the web site will remove a noncompliant posting.
  • If you have patients with positive things to say about you or your practice, encourage them to post positive comments on one or more of the available rating web sites. Not only does this counter any negative comments, but it can also push negative comments further down in the list so they are less prominent.
  • Consider involving legal counsel to advise you on your options. Sometimes a well-drafted letter from an attorney to either the web site or the poster is enough to encourage them to take down the posting.

For more information about this topic, please contact Todd A. Rodriguez at 610.458.4978 or [email protected].

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