Docs shouldn't ignore negative online reviews, author says

Just as they post online reviews of restaurants and hotels, people share their opinions on social media about their doctors.

But the biggest mistake doctors make when they discover that unhappy patients have posted negative or inaccurate comments about them is not responding to the bad reviews, Ron Harmon King, author of The Totally Wired Doctor, tells MedPage Today in a video interview.

Those reviews don't go away and when someone Googles a physician’s name, those reviews usually show up, he says. One study found that about half of Americans read healthcare reviews and two-thirds use them to make a healthcare decision, so a bad review can be disastrous for a practice.

So what should physicians do? Respond and provide your point of view, but do so carefully, King says.

First, doctors can reach our privately with a phone call to an unhappy patient to try and resolve the complaint. In his experience, patients will often post a second positive review online.

Second, doctors can respond on the website where the review is posted. Be sure you do not violate patient privacy laws even if the patient revealed personal details about his or her health, King says. Don’t comment on a patient’s history or case. But you can acknowledge that the law prevents you from discussing individual cases publicly, but that you welcome input to improve patient satisfaction. Provide a name and number for the patient to call to further discuss the complaint. You can also cite general policy of your practice, such as your receptionist is asked to notify patients if a doctor is running more than 10 minutes late, but a substitute might not have done so.

While doctors can, and should, respond to clearly libelous or defamatory comments, a calm, empathetic response can turn the situation to a doctor’s advantage.

And don’t forget, the hardest work begins after you’ve responded to the online review. While negative feedback is upsetting, it can also be a wake-up call to improve communication with patients. Practices have to not only be willing to make changes to their business operations but they also need to communicate the fact that patient feedback drove those changes.