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Online Patient Feedback: What to Do: Page 3 of 5

Online Patient Feedback: What to Do: Page 3 of 5

That doesn't make it easier to win. "A lot of these cases in the online world are more difficult because you don't always know who posted the defamatory material," says Hall. "More often than not, it's posted anonymously, in which case you would need to file a lawsuit to get a subpoena, which gives you the power to get the information you need about the poster from the Internet Service Provider." Some websites are now requiring reviewers to create an account with contact information (even if they still offer anonymous postings) so the reviewer can be reached if needed. For its part, Google+ notes all of its reviews are posted under the reviewer's full name, which is posted publicly on the Internet.

According to Hall, however, lawsuits should be viewed as a last resort. Such cases can cost tens of thousands of dollars and tie up resources for years. "It's not out of the question for costs to exceed six figures," he says. If you know the name of the reviewer, it may be equally effective and far less costly to send a cease and desist letter from an attorney that asks them to remove their post and refrain from further similar postings. Failure to adhere would then result in legal action.

Encourage more reviews

By far, though, the most effective way to negate a bad review is to fight fire with fire. "There's really nothing you can do to stop a negative review," says Chris Thomas, founder of Practice Maximization in Grand Rapids, Mich., a medical marketing company. "The only way to counter them is to ask patients to go online and post a positive review." Make it a policy to ask all of your patients at check-out to offer their opinion online — and make it as easy for them to comply as possible. Print up a how-to guide, providing the names of the most prominent doctor review sites so they don't have to hunt them down on their own. A repository of positive feedback, says Thomas, not only elevates your reputation on social media outlets, but helps dilute the impact of any negative review that may crop up.

To help practices better manage their online reputation, the AMA recently partnered with reputation.com to offer members access to its online reputation management solution. Services range from real-time alerts when new comments are made online to a practice-based kiosk for patients to provide feedback following a visit.

"You can use review sites as a marketing tool for your business and build a bank of positive reviews so when someone does write a negative one it's not the only thing on the site," says Lang.

Whatever you do, though, don't review yourself online anonymously — or pay a friend or family member to do it for you. That's illegal, says Hall, and can result in fines from the Federal Trade Commission. "There's the regulatory issue with the FTC, but also the matter of civil liability," he says. "Competitors could sue you for false advertising if they know it's fake or false."

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