How Should You Deal With Negative Online Reviews? December 10, 2012 General CAP, Cooperative of American Physicians, Negative online reviews, Practice Management 0 "Had to wait 1 1/2 hours." "The staff was horrible, rude and unprofessional." 'The doctor misdiagnosed my problem." In the past, a physician's reputation and practice were built by word of mouth. Today, word of mouth is no longer limited to people talking face-to-face. Websites, such as Yelp.com, AngiesList.com, HealthGrades.com, RateMDs.com and Vitals.com, allow anyone with access to a computer to share his or her opinion about a physician with the public at large. Physicians tend to focus on the negative comments, but not all comments are negative. A recently published study in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that an overwhelming number (88 percent) of online reviews for physicians were positive. The following is an excerpt of the study: We identified 33 physician-rating websites, which contained 190 reviews for 81 physicians. Most reviews were positive (88%). Six percent were negative, and six percent were neutral. Generalists and subspecialists did not significantly differ in number or nature of reviews. We identified several narrative reviews that appeared to be written by the physicians themselves. The CAP Hotline has received an increasing number of calls from physicians asking how to respond to negative comments. So what can a physician do in response to a negative online opinion? Some physicians fear that negative comments may harm their reputation and want to seek legal remedies to battle unsubstantiated online libel and defamation. This may not always be the best solution to the problem. Lawsuits are time consuming, expensive, and may not produce the outcome desired by the physician. Courts may view negative statements made online at review websites as opinion, not fact. Physicians should accept that rating websites are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. An occasional unfavorable review must be seen as a cost of doing business in the age of social media. If a physician desires to respond to a negative comment, much caution and thought should be put into the method and type of response. Some websites, like Yelp.com, have sections in its "Support Center" for business owners which discuss how to respond to comments. Whether to respond is a personal choice and should be given careful consideration. A response may be made publicly or in private to the individual. All responses should be kept simple, polite, honest, professional, and compassionate. If the criticism is true, it should also describe what changes are being made to prevent this from occurring in the future. You may end your reply by showing that you care by stating: "Thank you. We appreciate all feedback." What other steps can be taken to address patient opinions? Go online and see what is being said about your practice. Assign a staff member to regularly monitor these sites. Update incorrect demographic information. Personalize your comments with a clear professional photo. If a comment is not appropriate, consider taking another approach. CAP provides free Patient Satisfaction Surveys to its members. In today's environment, a satisfied patient is an important part of a successful practice and it is better for the feedback to come directly to you and not to the Internet. If you are a CAP member, we encourage you to take advantage of this free opportunity, by calling 800-252-7706 to request a packet of 100 surveys. If you are not yet a member of CAP but are interested in learning more about the myriad benefits of membership, including superior medical professional liability coverage, contact Membership Development at 800-356-5672 or request an online quote at www.CAPphysicians.com/join. Ann Whitehead is a Senior Risk Management & Patient Safety Specialist for the Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc. Comments are closed.