Dealing with Bad Online Reviews

February 4, 2016
Bill Schu

No matter how good your medical skills or bedside manner, all physicians will have to deal with some unhappy patients. What do you do when those unhappy patients take to the Internet?

No matter how good your medical skills or bedside manner, all physicians will have to deal with some unhappy patients. The unhappiest among them will often go to websites such as HealthGrades, Vitals.com, and Yelp (among many others) to describe, in awful and not always truthful detail, your misdeeds. While some may be determined to pursue malpractice litigation, and while others may be completely unjustified in their complaints, there are steps you can take to keep their unhappiness from escalating.

Is the patient’s concern justified?

Even if your unhappy patient is the chronic complainer type, don’t disregard the possibility that they have a legitimate beef. Did you deliver care according to your own high standards? If not, consider a formal, personal apology, and strongly consider if there is an additional service you can provide that would ameliorate the problem. Many cases of patient unease can be satisfied simply by you taking responsibility for them, owning up to them, and correcting them.

Are there things about your practice you need to address?

A cursory look at the negative reviews on many of these sites shows that roughly one-fifth of the posted complaints are related to the actual medical care given. The biggest source of complaints, which makes up almost half of all complaints, involve long wait times or rushed doctors who don’t seem to be fully engaged with the patient. And another third or so of the complaints are customer-service related, including staff rudeness or billing issues. If you’re getting a lot of these types of complaints, consider adjusting your scheduling practices and addressing issues with staff and billing coordinators.

Is the patient chronically unhappy with your services?

Some patients may not be interested in pursuing a malpractice judgment, but may simply seem to find some joy in complaining a lot. First of all, always remain calm with such patients, and if their complaint is about a member of your staff, make sure you hear the patient out, listen carefully to their concerns, and document your conversation, as well as any services that were given to the patient, as fully as possible. In the case of some patients, you may want to consider gently suggesting that they seek out another physician. You might both be better off if the patient finds a fresh start.

Think Long and Hard Before Suing

Physicians rarely sue patients for posting negative reviews online, and for good reason. In most cases, there is little more to be gained than an additional helping of bad publicity. That’s not to say that legal action is ill-advised in all cases; simply, it should be a last resort if you’ve exhausted other potential remedies.

The very worst thing you can do is simply ignore an unhappy patient. Take proactive steps, and you may find the problem addressed before it gets to the legal system.