For several years now, websites such as HealthGrades.com and Vitals.com have given consumers a medium to voice their respective opinions of their health care experiences. According to study results published in the November 2011 issue of Health Outcomes Research in Medicine, out of 15,000 patient ratings on the DrScore.com website between 2004 and 2010, the average physician rating was 9.3 out of 10. Not too shabby.
Mitch Dean, a Dallas lawyer with Stewart Dugger & Dean who devotes his practice to operations, regulatory and transactional health law matters, says that most people who post negative online reviews are doing so “because they feel like they’ve exhausted all other remedies, and they’re just going to get one last dig in.”
Most patients, Dean says, bring their complaints directly to the physician or the administration of the health care entity.
Negative reviews do happen, and physicians need to know not only how to minimize their impact, but how or even if they should respond.
Avoiding negative reviews
Of course, the first step to avoiding negative online reviews is to take proactive, positive steps. According to David Nour, author of Relationship Economics, physicians need to understand, internalize and apply best practices consistently in the notion that quality delivery of care in 2012 and beyond means more than the science of medicine. It’s also the “art” in the form of the experience their various constituents take away from every interaction.
“Physicians must begin to think about their online brand since much of their repute will be researched, discussed, evaluated and selected online versus traditional means such as referrals, credibility, industry presence or traditional media,” Nour explains.
Nour also points out that physicians need to develop both an offensive approach to their message, unique perspective and independent insights as well as a defensive strategy. That way, when or if they are talked about in less-than-favorable terms, when there is misinformation or simply inaccurate information, about them online they can set the record straight.
Setting the record straight
According to Dean, there is a right way and a wrong way to attempt to set the record straight about online information.
“I would almost never recommend taking legal action,” Dean says.
Despite the validity of a claim, a lawsuit could bring unwanted attention to the situation and cause more harm than good.
Instead, Dean suggests several approaches. The first is to talk to the operators of the website itself. If the site is irresponsibly posting inaccurate information that harming your practice, then you may want to get an attorney involved and see what your rights are, rather than taking aim at the patient. However, Dean says it’s preferable to first reach out to the patient directly and privately, if that’s possible. You may be able to resolve the matter through simple conversation and reach a better, mutual understanding.
Nour echoes Dean’s advice, saying physicians should “take the high road.”
“No brand wins by picking or contributing to a fight online,” Nour says. “When you address negative comments, take them offline, but come back online to mention that they were resolved. If you can’t resolve it, agree to disagree and move on.”
Dean believes that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you have patients who say they had a great experience, consider asking them if they would like to share that on websites like HealthGrades.com or Vitals.com; that you would certainly appreciate the feedback.
One negative review amidst a field of positive reviews and praise tends to lessen the impact of the one disgruntled patient,” according to Dean.
“I know when I see a negative review, I know that when it’s one negative review amid all this praise, I figure that’s the kind of person who is not going to be happy with anything,” he says.
Dean also says it’s always good to seek input from your patients on how to control quality. Even though that feedback may be coming from a lay person’s perspective, patients often provide great information about how to improve a practice’s operation.
But, he cautions, if you’re going to survey patients, make sure you do so in a way that is compliant with all privacy laws.
“One of the ways you can take that offensive posture with the most minimal concern is simply to say to people, ‘if you’ve had a good experience, here are some websites where you could let us know,’” Dean says. “Because at that point all you’ve done is given them a URL. I think that can be really useful, and it’s pretty simple to do.”
Ed Rabinowitz recently wrote One More Dance, a book about one family's courageous battle against time and glioblastoma brain cancer. Read more about the book here.