By Sue Boisvert, BSN, MHSA, CPHRM, FASHRM

How your medical practice responds to incorrect and/or negative online reviews can shape the discussion and improve or impair your overall reputation. Here are four tips to help you develop and implement a response plan:
  1. Pay attention. To participate in an online discussion, you must be aware of what is being said. Evaluating your online presence can be as simple as periodically searching for your name and your practice name, or you may choose a more active approach by utilizing a reputation management service. A social media monitoring service can be an effective “middle-of-the- road” alternative. These services scour the internet for posts based on the user’s selected parameters and provide email alerts when content is found. Monitoring services include free options, such as Google Alerts, and fee-for-service options.
  2. Respond appropriately. Your response to a review can have a significant impact on subsequent reviews. Social media experts suggest taking the discussion offline, or at least into a private one-to-one conversation, when responding to negative reviews. Acknowledging a posted concern and providing a response, such as: “I am sorry you were unhappy with your experience with our practice.  I’d welcome a conversation if you’d like to contact my office via phone,” can serve you well. Patients often respond to negative reviews with their own positive experiences. Medical blogger Dr. Kevin Pho recommends engaging your patients in the review process by advising them how to post online ratings.
  3. Protect privacy. HIPAA does not apply to material posted by a patient, but it may apply to your response. Resist the urge to engage in an online debate. For example, responding, “I didn’t prescribe antibiotics because Timmy’s cough was probably caused by a virus,” could constitute a breach of protected health information (PHI). If the posting is inflammatory or dangerously incorrect, consider a general comment about the condition rather than a response to how a specific patient’s case was handled. For example, “Respiratory illnesses in children are usually caused by viruses and not treated with antibiotics unless a bacterial infection is confirmed.”
  4. Consider the criticism. Information in a negative review may provide valuable insight into what your patients are thinking. Their concerns probably aren’t clinical. Online complaints tend to focus on things like parking, wait times, and appointment scheduling rather than clinical care. Correcting what caused the complaint to be made in the first place may result in more positive reviews in the future.

Rating sites, like Healthgrades and Vitals, are here to stay, and patients have the right to express their opinions. Expect patients to post their opinions and be prepared to respond appropriately to negative reviews while basking in the acknowledgment of the positive ones. Every piece of feedback, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow your practice. 


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No legal or medical advice intended. This post includes general risk management guidelines. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal or medical developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal or medical advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances.