The Negative Reviews May Be Completely Untrue
One of the sad and frustrating elements of patient online reviews is that although many gripes may be true, others aren't. Angry patients -- irritated with a doctor for something unrelated to the care and treatment they've received -- may post nasty reviews. Patients whose request for a medically unnecessary antibiotic was denied or chatty patients who catch a practice on a particularly hectic day may feel snubbed.
What's more, some reviews are fakes posted simply to make a practice look bad. As RateMDs notes in its Frequently Asked Questions section, "Always take the ratings with a grain of salt. Remember, we have no way of knowing who is doing the rating -- the doctor, other doctors, patients, dogs, cats, etc."
Reacting to Negative Reviews
Not surprisingly, negative reviews can elicit some pretty heated reactions. A small number of doctors sue their patients, but experts say results have been poor; King notes that most suits fail and create more negative publicity for a physician.
Others have patients sign waivers stating that they won't post online comments about the doctor. That's a confrontational way to start a patient relationship, says Hertz, and one that isn't likely to win your patients' love and affection.
Rather, when it comes to online comments, experts advise physicians to be accepting, attentive, reflective, and responsive.
Michael Fertik, founder and CEO of Reputation.com, a reputation management service, says the best way physicians can combat negative reviews is to counter them with positive ones. Although most patients are satisfied with the care they receive, they don't bother to post reviews, he says. By making it convenient for them to do so -- Reputation.com provides kiosks that enable patients to write anonymous reviews before leaving the physician's office -- physicians can enhance their online appearance.
"The prospective patient is remarkably sensitive," he says. "The absence of reviews or a small number of negative reviews can have an outsized impact." By encouraging satisfied patients to post reviews, physicians not only increase the share of positive posts, they also provide readers with a more complete picture of their practice, which can be an important draw to would-be patients.
Physicians with the time and inclination to take a more do-it-yourself approach should trawl review sites on a weekly basis to see what patients are posting, Hertz says. If a patient writes a negative post, practice administrators and physicians need to investigate the complaint and rectify the problem. Although physicians need to be mindful of patient confidentiality in responding to complaints, they can post responses thanking reviewers for their feedback, apologizing for perceived shortcomings, and noting any corrective action that has been taken. In addition, Hertz suggests that practices proactively conduct patient satisfaction surveys so that patients have an opportunity to vent their concerns directly without posting them on the Internet.
An old-fashioned complaint box -- or "Feedback for the Physician" box -- in the waiting room enables patients to express their concerns, as does a practice Website that invites patients to communicate with the practice regarding any issues or problems. In either case, practice management experts say, physicians need to read the messages and respond to them promptly.
Physicians may not like the scrutiny to which they're being subjected, Hertz says, but it is a reality of modern medicine and -- when embraced -- can be a valuable and effective practice improvement tool.
"Patients talk about waiting times and how the office staff treated them," Hertz says. "Sometimes it's warranted and sometimes it's not, but it happens -- and the thing is, sometimes it gets results that patients feel they can't get otherwise."
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Cite this: Top Complaints Posted on Doc-Rating Websites - Medscape - Feb 20, 2014.