Trashed on the Internet: What to Do Now

Shelly Reese


January 20, 2016

In This Article

The Patient's Right to Complain

No one likes criticism, and physicians are no different. Online physician review sites have been around for roughly a decade, and most patients post positive reviews. Despite that, doctors say that nasty comments and negative reviews sting as much as ever.

But although doctors may still rail about reviews they feel are unfair or unduly critical, they are less likely to lash back than they once were.

Not surprisingly, the way doctors react to negative reviews varies widely. Some feel that, as the most public face on a healthcare team, they are unfairly blamed whenever the system hits a glitch. The result, as one ob/gyn notes on Medscape is that the "physician—the only 'team member' identified by name—becomes a target."

Others feel that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents them from defending themselves. "I would be in support of an online site where physicians can cite patients who are contentious, angry, don't pay, narcotic-seeking, commit fraud, etc.," writes one rheumatologist. "Turnabout is fair play." A pain management specialist laments, "Anyone can post whatever they want regardless of questionable veracity, on Yelp as well as other websites, essentially with impunity."

On the opposite side of the debate, some doctors say patients have a right to complain in the face of impersonal care. "The electronic medical record (EMR) and the current practices of medicine have made the physician/patient encounter impersonal. For most practitioners, all is about time and coding the highest level of evaluation and management (E&M) possible to optimize reimbursement," says one. "Physician evaluation websites should include all of the provider encounter—the good and the bad."

Still, many physicians fall somewhere in the resigned, ambivalent middle. "The problem with ratings," writes one emergency medicine physician, is that people who are happy with their care say thank you in person, whereas those who aren't write an online screed. "Over time, those who don't like you don't return, and those who do stay with you a long time. So don't sweat any negative ratings and don't play to the crowd; just practice good medicine and be satisfied with that."


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