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    I’m getting bad reviews on social media. What can I do?


    Dr. John has a very busy medical and cosmetic practice. The growth of his practice, and its success, is a testament to the quality of services he provides. Recently, while surfing the Web, Dr. John notes that a recent patient said, “Dr. John was arrogant, insensitive and ran late. The diagnosis he gave me was wrong. And for that, I had to dish out $50 co-pay. Stay away — forever.” Dr. John is incensed. What can he do?

    The reality is that most dermatologists go into medicine to help patients. Some dermatologists do provide better care than others. But most are conscientious and wake up every day intending to do the best possible job for their patients. The average experienced dermatologist sees thousands of patients every year. It is impossible to make 100 percent of our patients happy. It is inevitable you will, at some point, receive a bad review. It could be for any number of reasons. What can you do? Do you have legal recourse?

    The reality is that if you have an isolated bad review amidst a sea of positive reviews, that is very different than scores of awful reviews. The public generally understands no physician can make everyone happy. But, the public also expects you will make most patients happy. So the first piece of advice is do not sweat an isolated negative review. But can Dr. John fix a negative review?

    Unfortunately, most reviews are anonymous, and/or are written under a pseudonym, and/or the review may not give specific information that would allow the aggrieved dermatologist to determine who wrote it. If Dr. John can figure out the author of the review, he should consider reaching out to the patient. If he can fix the patient’s problem, he should do so. Sometimes, it’s an escalating misunderstanding over a $20 bill. Other times, it’s the perception that the physician was rude, does not listen or does not care. These are solvable issues.

    Merely calling the patient and apologizing for any misunderstanding may be enough. Most doctors do not call patients about such matters — when YOU do so, it sets you apart from others. It’s what top performers in every other industry do. Healthcare should not be an exception.

    Take action

    More commonly the physician is not sure who the patient is. The complaint is general. If it’s a systemic complaint about your office, and you can fix it — do so. Then, tell the world you heard the message and took action. If it’s an isolated complaint, consider responding online. You will need to pay attention to HIPAA issues in doing so. Even though the patient may not have posted a name, the post may contain enough details in the post to identify the patient. Be careful with how you respond. In the end, consider responding online to the post if you can do so in a HIPAA-compliant form.

    The more global problem is that every review site has is its own “ecosystem.” They have their own guiding philosophies and rules. Most have Terms of Use. If you believe the review was unfair and violated the terms of use, diplomatically write the site and ask if it will take a look at the post in the context of its Terms of Use. They may agree with you and remove the post. Remember, each site is run by human beings who are more likely to respond to “please” and “thank you” than to threats. Couch your note as a request and not a demand.  Review sites may remove an unfair post if it violates its Terms of Use.

    Finally, a high-performing practice can be distinguished online by proactively asking patients for feedback. If you have a great patient safety record, positive clinical outcomes, and great “customer service”, your online reputation should mirror your actual reputation. But, you have to be diligent in asking your patients for online feedback. When the inevitable negative review does surface, it will be placed in context of the multitude of positives. Although some social media sites, such as Yelp, on the surface seem to highlight negative reviews and discard positive reviews, this is not true for most social media review sites.

    Be proactive

    Asking your patients proactively for online feedback allows high-performing practices to be fairly represented online. This drives new patient volume and new patient revenue. If a dermatologist has an office, he/she will receive some bad — and even rotten — reviews.

    The best way to prepare for that day is for physicians to ask their patients for online feedback each and every day. That way the physician will be defined by hundreds of happy patients instead of two noisy patients with a megaphone. With this, the public will have a representative picture of your practice.

    Lastly, Dr. John may wish to sue the website and/or the patient. This attempt is not likely to be successful. The First Amendment right to freedom of speech protects almost all except the most egregious of online complaints. In the end, try to keep most of your patients happy! 

    David J. Goldberg, M.D., J.D.
    Dr. Goldberg is Director of Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of New York and New Jersey, Director of Mohs Surgery and laser research, ...


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