How to handle negative online reviews

Consumers have used online review sites to inform their restaurant, hotel and flight purchasing decisions for years. Recent studies show consumers are also using online physicians reviews to search for new physicians more than ever before, with the use of online reviews increasing by 68 percent within the last year. The increased use of these reviews creates many questions for physicians one being: What happens when a patient writes a seriously negative physician review?

According an article in Forbes, physicians oppose online consumer review sites to a higher degree than most professionals in other industries. The main reason? Physicians closely associate their professional reputations to their personal identity. According to Forbes, another common complaint from physicians is that their patients lack the medical expertise to evaluate whether the physician delivered high-quality care or sound medical advice.

Confidentiality obligations usually prohibit physicians from responding to negative online reviews. This often leads to even more frustration for physicians because they are subject to criticism but can't defend themselves.

However, there is a positive side to online physician reviews, according to Forbes. Most online reviews by patients are positive and even offer useful feedback (usually regarding office logistics, such as parking, office managers, billing practices, operating hours or the bedside manner of physicians and staff). While these complaints don't detract from a physician's medical advice or care, they do impact prospective patients' decisions on where to seek care.

Also, according to the article, happy patients often respond to negative reviews about a physician and correct misinformation.

So, how should physicians handle negative reviews? Forbes gives some suggestions.

Learn from the reviews. According to Forbes, physicians should learn from the valuable feedback negative reviews might include and not let emotional reactions impede their ability to assess the review objectively.

Contact the patient who wrote the review, if possible. Reaching out to the patient in a private fashion is another good solution. Showing sincere sympathy can help remedy a dissatisfied or upset patient's concerns, and even turn them into a loyal ally.

Respond publicly if appropriate. If a review criticizes a physician's medical advice, the physician can respond by describing his or her standard protocols under specified conditions, as long as he or she doesn't reveal sensitive information about the patient's circumstances.

If the patient's negative review is right, it might be a useful strategy for the physician to respond by apologizing and explaining how he or she will avoid the issue in the future, according to the article. Acknowledging mistakes and addressing solutions to prevent them helps prospective patients trust physicians even more.

Submit a complaint to the review website for fake reviews. According to Forbes, review sites are not legally obligated to intervene when physicians claim reviews contain false information, but if a physician has credible evidence that a review is fake, the site might take action.

Lawsuits are rarely a good option. Physicians should refrain from suing their patients over false reviews because patients will likely respond with a complaint against the physician's license to practice or a malpractice claim, according to the article. Additionally, when a physician sues a patient, it looks like they have something to hide. Most importantly, according to the article, physicians are not the likely winners.

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