Responding to Negative Online Comments

Patients are increasingly seeking information about physicians online. Nearly 60 percent report that online reviews are important when choosing a physician. Physicians are experiencing the not-so-new phenomenon of negative publicity, but it is happening with more immediacy and reach through social media and other marketing outlets.

The ability to remain anonymous on these platforms can embolden people to post a negative review. These negative reviews can come from angry patients, disgruntled employees, and sometimes even random members of the public. There are many online sites that allow patients to rate their physicians and leave narratives about their experiences. These reviews can play a significant role in a potential patient’s choice of healthcare providers.1 

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Because negative reviews can affect any physician and his or her practice, the issue certainly warrants devising a plan of action. Whether a physician is part of a large group or in solo practice, being prepared with a stepwise plan to address negative reviews helps support a consistently applied and, perhaps, a less emotionally charged or impulsive response.2

Recommended Risk Management Mitigation Strategies

Don’t panic. Stay calm and understand that it is not possible to please every patient.

Maintain professionalism and put the patient’s needs first.

Ask patients to go online and rate your services. Positive ratings will help to counterbalance negative comments.3

Do not respond immediately or impulsively. Take time to consider the comment, reflect on why the individual felt compelled to post, and decide if it is even worthy of response. Not all negative comments are worthy of your time to respond. Engaging someone may start a chain reaction of negative slurs and comments and may potentially lead to litigation.

If responding with a post, consider using canned non-patient- or situation-specific responses. For example, “Our practice always strives for a positive patient experience, and we are sorry you were not satisfied. If you are a patient in our practice, please contact our office directly to allow us to respond to and rectify any problem you may have had.” Never include any protected health information (PHI) or argue a point in any response.

If you feel the information is untrue, inappropriate, or simply meant to be provocative, try contacting the website administrator. Since rating sites have content guidelines, the administrator may remove information that violates the site’s terms. For example, Yelp will remove posts for various reasons, but they “don’t typically take sides in factual disputes and generally allow Yelpers to stand behind their reviews.” 4

Limit the response to general information or updates about how specific issues are addressed.5

Attempt to move the discussion to a private forum. Again, consider the following response: “I’m sorry you had a negative experience. Please contact our office directly so that we may address your concerns.”5

Never use patient identifiers, reveal any PHI, or confirm that the person posting is a patient of yours.

Do not directly or personally attack the individual posting the comment.

Please call the CAP Hotline at 800-252-0555 for expert guidance from an experienced Senior Risk Management and Patient Safety Specialist.

Melvin Barnes is a Senior Risk Management and Patient Safety Specialist for CAP. Questions or comments related
to this article should be directed to MBarnes@CAPphysicians.com

References

1Bendix J. Physician reviews: Patients increasingly consult online ratings when choosing a doctor. Medical Economics. May 8, 2019. Available at: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/news/physician-reviews-patients-increas...

2Lagu T, Metayer K, Moran M, Ortiz L, Priya A, Goff SL, Lindenauer PK. Website characteristics and physician reviews on commercial physician-rating websites. JAMA. 2017;317(7):766-768. Available at: jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2603919?appld=scweb

3Murphy GP, Radadia KD, Breyer BN. Online physician reviews: is there a place for them?. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2019;12:85-89. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6526774/

4Yelp Support Center. Will Yelp remove a false or defamatory review? 2017. Yelp website. Available at: www.yelp-support.com/article/Will-Yelp-remove-a-false-or-defamatory-revi...

5Henry TA. How to respond to bad online reviews. American Medical Association (AMA). Patient Support and Advocacy. Sept. 2, 2016. Available at: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/how-respond-bad-online-reviews