How to Deal with Patients Badmouthing You Online

March 10, 2011

It's going to happen to you sooner or later: a patient is going to write something negative about you or your practice and post it online.

Let’s face it, when people are online they can -- and often do -- say anything they want. The filter that’s used when talking face to face with another individual is gone, and depending on the forum, accountability is gone as well. And an ever-growing number of people are grappling with the problem of how to handle people who grind their axe on the Internet.

The mainstream media and communities, to some extent, are tuned into how the problem is personally affecting kids as young as elementary school age as well as adults. Recourse, in even the most obnoxious of cases, is difficult at best.

So, here’s an interesting question (with a real-life scenario) posted recently by Dinah on the Shrink Rap blog: What do you do if someone -- especially a patient -- goes gangsta on you online? And, furthermore, are you looking out for that possibility? It matters, because it can have real consequences professionally.

Way back when… like, 7 to 10 years ago, if someone wanted information about a physician, that person could use an online service provided by ChoicePoint (now LexusNexus) and find out if that doctor had ever had his or her license suspended or had lost a malpractice lawsuit. This was a more or less a factual, evidence-based reporting of information.

Today, people are Googling physicians online and coming up with reviews submitted by individuals on websites like Yelp and Vitals. These reviews are based on personal views and are not always (if ever) verifiable. Yet, as Dinah points out on the Shrink Rap blog, prospective patients will read those reviews and make a decision as to whether or not see that physician, regardless of who recommended that physician in the first place.

To be the target of online ranting may sometimes be unavoidable -- you can’t cherry pick your patients, and seriously, it’s impossible to predict what people are going to do. Some people have bad days every once in a while and blow off steam online. Others very pointedly mean to exact revenge or find an outlet for passive-aggressive behavior.

What do you do if this happens to you? Petition the website for removal? Post a response? And what do you do if you are able to identify the poster as a patient that you are still seeing?