NOVEMBER 1, 2011
“Can One Bad Comment Or Online Review Ruin Your Practice?”
The Doctors Company
Unhappy patients rarely retract derogatory or even defamatory statements made online. Should you fight the commenters?
Fighting defamation, at least in some cases, might make the situation worse. Even if disgruntled commenters desist, the defamation is in the public domain and will circulate again and again.
Consider the following recent court case: A neurologist in Duluth, Minn., sued a family member of an unhappy patient for defamation because of a negative review written on a third-party website. The media picked up the story, multiplying the negative aspects of the case and presenting additional facts that were not supportive of the physician’s office staff. Ultimately, the case was dismissed by the judge, who declared that “the court does not find defamatory meaning, but rather a sometimes emotional discussion of the issues.”
Fighting commenters on an Internet review site can escalate a poor interaction or outcome into a full-blown complaint to the state medical board — as it did in Texas, where anonymous commenters and complainants led to medical board actions. In response, physicians banded together and pushed the passage of a law that prevents the Texas Medical Board from considering anonymous complaints against physicians for disciplinary actions. Other states may take up the issue as well.
If you should receive a negative or unfair comment or review online, avoid responding to the post. Review the comment from the point of view of a patient. Can any information shared in the comment help improve the practice? Trust that established, potential, or new patients will use their own intelligence and judgment when reading the post.
To help maintain positive relationships with your patients, consider the following ideas:
Trust your patients and your practice. Don’t have patients sign “gag orders” preventing them from commenting about their experience. This puts a therapeutic relationship onto a potentially adversarial footing.
Give patients a direct line to the practice through patient satisfaction surveys. Discuss the results in regular staff meetings and address any patient concerns.
Consider sending a letter to new patients after their first visit, thanking them for choosing the practice and stating that you hope to see them in the future.
Encourage satisfied patients to post their experience as well, to help balance the reviews.