Your staff is rude, your waiting room is dirty and your doctors couldn't diagnose their way out of a paper bag. That's the opinion of one disgruntled patient anyway, and thanks to the proliferation of physician rating websites, her venom is now online for all to see. Indeed, patients and ex-employees are empowered as never before to share their experience with prospective patients on sites like Vitals.com, RateMDs.com, Healthgrades.com, Google+, Angie's List, and Yelp. Many of the more than 30 such rating sites enable patients to post anonymously, with the intent of encouraging candor — for better or worse.
Not all that they say is negative, of course. In fact, a study by the University of Michigan School of Public Health and College of Pharmacy using data collected between 2004 and 2010 from online rating site Dr.Score.com found the average physician rating was 9.3 out of 10. At some point, however, the harsh review is inevitable for every practice. It's how you handle those critiques that determine their impact, says Noah Lang, vice president of business development for Reputation.com in Redwood City, Calif. "One of the most common questions I get from doctors is 'Should I respond to a negative review?'" he says. "Typically, the answer is no."
Responding back to a patient implicitly acknowledges that person is your patient. And worse, you risk disclosing personal health information when you confirm, deny, or alter what they said about their treatment — which violates HIPAA privacy rules. Steer clear, especially, of any discourse related to an alleged error in diagnosis or treatment, says Lang, which could expose your practice to risk in a future medical malpractice lawsuit. By engaging in dialogue, he says, you also create a potential new problem for your practice. "If you take the risk in responding to a patient review, that creates more chatter, which can lead to others posting something negative about their own experience so it becomes a very public discussion," says Lang.
There is one scenario in which it may be acceptable to respond — if someone complained about environmental factors that temporarily impacted their visit, he says. Noise related to a construction project, for example, or inadequate parking. "It's OK in that case to indicate that the office was undergoing a renovation and that you now have a peaceful, quiet office again," he says.
Take it off-line
Patricia Redsicker, a content marketing consultant with Baltimore-based Wordviewediting.com, agrees. While practices must adhere to privacy guidelines, she says, it's good business to reach out to a reviewer who expressed frustration with a staff member, scheduling problem, or billing matter. "People are talking about you in social media outlets whether you like it or not," she says. "Not taking part in it does not make the conversation go away. You might as well be part of the conversation, which allows you to respond in an appropriate and timely fashion."