Physicians Who Receive Negative Online Reviews

December 07, 2016

Often times when a physician is the subject of a very negative yelp review, the language used can be specific and damning. The experience can involve the very beginnings (a notice of sorts-in writing.) of a future malpractice claim, which will result imminently from the dissatisfaction.

Many doctors are reviewed online (google plus, Yelp, etc.) What should you do if you receive a ‘damning review’. The Washington Post reported that many doctors are firing back at bad Yelp reviews — and breaching their HIPAA duty to protect patient information and records.

These sites are beginning to play a bigger role in the choice a patient makes in selecting their healthcare providers. Patients are increasingly going online to research a physician choice prior to setting up an appointment. Physicians online reputations are becoming as the very work that they provide. Feeling that they have to stand up to defend their reputation, some health providers are casting their patients’ privacy aside and sharing intimate details online as they try to rebut criticism, including details regarding diagnoses and treatment. And this is exactly what is protected under HIPAA.

The Washington Post reports that Doctors and Dentists are feeling that their reputations are under attack:

One Washington state dentist turned the tables on a patient who blamed him for the loss of a molar by writing “Due to your clenching and grinding habit, this is not the first molar tooth you have lost due to a fractured root,” he wrote. “This tooth is no different.”

In California, a chiropractor pushed back against a mother’s claims that he misdiagnosed her daughter with scoliosis. “You brought your daughter in for the exam in early March 2014,” he wrote. “The exam identified one or more of the signs I mentioned above for scoliosis. I absolutely recommended an x-ray to determine if this condition existed; this x-ray was at no additional cost to you.”

And a California dentist scolded a patient who accused him of misdiagnosing her. “I looked very closely at your radiographs and it was obvious that you have cavities and gum disease that your other dentist has overlooked. … You can live in a world of denial and simply believe what you want to hear from your other dentist or make an educated and informed decision.”

Doctors and all healthcare providers need to remember that the law health insurance portability and accountability act forbids closure of any protected health information.

The patients affected say they’ve been harmed twice — first by poor service or care and then by the disclosure of information they considered private.

What should you do?

The Doctors’ Company patient Safety Department offers advice for physicians trying to navigate the online space:

  1. First listen to the criticism. Online reviews are sometimes the only avenue patients have to express concerns. Read what they have to say.
  2. Second don't respond immediately. You want to set the record straight and online arguments are not always productive.
  3. Take the conversation off-line if possible.
  4. Develop standard replies that acknowledge comments.
  5. Resolve disputes professionally, just as you would if they were off-line

To build your online reputation The Doctors Company offers this advice:

  • create profile pages, yelp, vitals, HealthGrades, and rate MD. The sites show your basic information, board certification and hospital affiliations. They will also allow patients to rate you ( remember this a good thing. )
  • “Google my business” is a free service that allows you to feed business details into Google so that patients can see information about your practice, ie., directions – hours - phone numbers and access to websites and mobile platforms.

If you want to engage further… look at the big picture. The Doctors Company advises three key goals for your social media effort:

  • To provide reliable medical information to patients.
  • To connect with colleagues and follow leaders in your specialty.
  • Develop a voice - show some of what you think about policy and the direction of healthcare.