October 16, 2013
“Protecting Against Negative Online Reviews”
Just ClicIt LLC, Medical Practice Reputation Marketing
A recent court decision to [ dismiss ] a physician’s well publicized defamation case produces a concern: What is the best choice in dealing with negative online comments about your practice? Legal action against consumers who criticize your practice online can be costly, prolonged and unsuccessful, as in the case of neurologist, Dr. David McKee of Duluth, Minnesota.
McKee pursued this previously mentioned defamation suit against a person who wrote some negative online reviews for more than three years before the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a lower court opinion and [ dismissed ] his case on Jan. 30, 2013.
Per court documents, defendant Dennis Laurion objected to McKee’s behavior while treating his dad and criticized him on various “rate-your-doctor websites.”Laurion stated in his reviews a nurse’s alleged observation that McKee was “a real tool” – one of six statements that a court of appeals judged had merit for a lawsuit.
In reversing, the Supreme Court decided some of Laurion’s statements were essentially true and others innocuous, or in the case of the “real tool” statement, a matter of opinion that “cannot be proven true or false.”
An analysis on online review sites in general show these reviews to be influential on consumer behavior. Just a 1-star increase on Yelp brings a 5% to 9% increase in revenue, according to Harvard Business Review. Studies on physician review sites such as Vitals.com are less decisive, but common sense does suggest that bad reviews are not good, especially when patients look for a new doctor. “Sometimes the cranks get ignored,” says an attorney from Indianapolis. “If the complaint is ‘I had to wait an hour,’ that’s probably not a big deal, but when they get patients to question your quality of care, that’s another story.”
As Online Reputation Marketing specialists have stated, “When you have only so much real estate on Google, then who do you want to own it: You, unhappy patients or competitors?” Experts tell us that medical practices can take a few steps short of legal action to protect themselves against negative reviews.
Contact critics, but do it offline
Trying to respond to a critic with your side of what happened can be dangerous, particularly if you do it in the forum where the criticism appears, says a health care attorney with Fox Rothschild in Pittsburgh. There is danger in elevating a bad situation into one that could bring even more attention. One unhappy review amongst many favorable reviews is likely to be neglected or diminished, than if there is a lengthy social spat on your review page.
A principal from a law office in Royal Oak, Michigan, who specializes in social media issues, suggests you contact the critics away from the review site, either by using their posted address or by tracking them down on Google. However, the outreach may backfire. They might go back to the message board and say, ‘I heard from the doctor, and he’s really feeling the heat. A better way to respond is, ‘We understand you’re upset; what can we do to help?’ If a consumer feels resentful, disgraced or that they’ve been treated poorly, just a modest show of respect can actually be very healing and productive.
Next, Use low-impact legal tactics
If a critic is overly obnoxious, or if you suspect that he may be employed by a competitor and is committing willful sabotage, consider getting him, or the site that displays his reviews, to remove them with a relatively low-impact legal tactic: a cease-and-desist order from an attorney. The attorney from Indianapolis advises that this usually presents a simple complaint, such as the reviews violating the website’s terms of service in some way. If the reviewer is defaming you, “a strongly worded letter from an attorney advising him about defamation liability and demanding a retraction” may stop him.
Positive Inputs to Fight the Bad Reviews
Online Reputation Marketing Service companies often advise that you fight the bad reviews with good ones. If you disseminate your positives with an eye toward search engine optimization (SEO) and reputation marketing strategies, you may find that your good-news posts exceed any bad reviews. One such firm battled a physician’s critic by publishing on the internet a professional biography and personal website for the doctor that accurately brought to light his numerous awards and accolades, his volunteer service, and other notable endeavors. This type of truthful and current content quickly pushed the negative reviews to the bottom of his second page of search results.
It is advised that physicians appropriately and proactively contact patients and ask for accurate feedback on pertinent review sites. To get reviews from patients, an Online Reputation Marketing Service company can provide you with strategies, such as setting up practices with a tablet so that patients have the ability to give a review in their office. If the reviews are not all good, it’s still a positive for the practice, because the higher the quantity of reviews and how current they are is what makes you rise to the top. Asking for opportune reviews is key and would not include getting your staff to postreview sites with good information. “FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has some clear rules on disclosure,” warns the attorney from Indianapolis. “Their guidance says someone reviewing a product should disclose if they’ve received remuneration or have an interest – for example, if they’re employed by the company they are reviewing. Don’t offer gifts, discounts, or premiums to patients for giving reviews, because a patient could be offended by such an offer, and they will post it and destroy your credibility and the credibility of any unprompted favorable reviews. Also, it may get close to violating the civil monetary penalty law’s prohibitions against patient inducements.”
As a Last Resort, There is Always Legal Action
When all else fails, legal action may be your last resort, though you can’t be sure of a positive result. Opinions are one thing, but “if they disparage your professional capabilities falsely, it can be easier to prosecute,” says the attorney from Michigan. “‘Tool’ is ambiguous, but ‘Doctor Smith botched my surgery’ isn’t, and if you can show it’s not true, you may have something.”
The best method, of course, is not to get to this point in the first place. “I think this underscores the need for good, old-fashioned customer service. Make sure patients are well-served. Things do happen, and sometimes someone is going to be unhappy, or you’ll get a malcontent.… If there’s a complaint, don’t blow it off. Remember that doctors are in a service business too.”
Because your reputation is everything online, medical practices need to implement reputation marketing first, before any other marketing. Consider hiring an Online Marketing Service company that specializes in Reputation Marketing so they can spend the time you don’t have on building a 5 star reputation online and leveraging that reputation to get more patients.