Thursday, June 26, 2014

Patient Reviews and the Internet

Independent online quality rating systems for physicians have cropped up all over the Internet in recent years. Patients can anonymously vent their dissatisfaction with any medical practice. Even the most competent doctors have unhappy -  even vengeful - patients who mercilessly berate them for anything from cold stethoscopes to poor outcomes.

Develop a strategy for dealing with the inevitable attacks, but remember that fighting back - especially taking legal action - can draw more attention to the negative criticism than you want.

If you haven't done so lately, go to the Web, and Google your practice name and each provider. Chances are, you'll get at least a few hits that point you to some angry comments posted by a disgruntled patient. 

In these days of easy communication on the very public forum provided by the Internet, it seems anyone can say anything they like. And they do.

The question is: What can you do to defend yourself? How can you answer the criticisms - especially the exaggerated and unfair ones? Here are some ideas:
  • Prevent: Create a patient-centered practice that emphasizes excellent customer service at every step, from appointment call to final billing process. 
  • Emphasize quality improvement everywhere. Take criticisms seriously, and make corrections and enhancements wherever you can. 
  • Use an in-house patient-satisfaction survey. It will allow unhappy patients to tell you -  rather than the whole world - what they don't like. 
  • Monitor: Make it part of your routine (or a staff member's job) to search the Web periodically for flaming criticism. 
  • Respond: When you find those online jibes, respond to them through the channels provided by the more reputable consumer sites. 
  • Use caution. Don't reveal any personal health information in your response. 
  • Use diplomacy. Emphasize to Web surfers that you take criticism seriously and that your entire staff constantly works to improve patients' experiences with you. 
  • Use an expert. Consider hiring a PR representative to help you write responses that have the right "spin." 
Don't use the legal system: As a last resort, some practitioners consider involving your attorney when the criticisms go beyond opinions and include blatant lies. But again, proceed very cautiously: escalating the fight could attract media attention and many, many more hits from the now-curious public. 

When it comes right down to it, nothing you can do will be more effective than making quality care and excellent service your top priorities. And let your patients see evidence of your efforts. You can't prevent every unkind word, but patients who know you and your practice will find those nasty accusations hard to believe. 

Greenbranch publishes two books on this topic: Check out Establishing, Managing and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices and The Patient-Centered Payoff: Driving Practice Growth Through Image, Culture and Patient Experience.

If you enjoy reading the blog entries in "Solving Problems in the Medical Practice" you may want to check out all the great products at Greenbranch Publishing.