Every day, more patients are turning to the internet to research and leave feedback on their physicians. In a survey by Software Advice, the percentage of patients using online reviews increased by 68% between 2013 and 2014. Platforms like Yelp, Vitals, Healthgrades and RateMDs act for doctors the same way as review sites do for hotels, spas and restaurants. While doctors are dealing with the hard realities of online reviews, you can make patient feedback posted online work in your favor. Here's how to combat negative reviews the right way.
What You Should Know
Negative feedback is never pleasant to receive. You may be ashamed and embarrassed to hear about how you may have failed a patient. These feelings intensify when negative reviews are made public, and make you want to give your side of the story.
Before you respond, consider HIPAA law. HIPAA law, as well as privacy laws in each state, may limit a physician’s response to negative feedback. Doctors wrongly assume that because the patient already has made their case public, they can do the same. Some physicians who engage online make the mistake of giving away private patient information. While there are ways to address online feedback, consider the hefty fines that come with HIPAA violations and proceed with extreme caution.The second thing to know is that most online reviews of doctors are overwhelmingly positive. In fact, a review of 33 physician rating sites containing 190 reviews of 81 physicians found that 88% of the reviews were favorable. With numbers this high, physicians and hospitals must consider how they can take advantage of online feedback forums.
How to Respond
If you feel strongly about responding to online reviews, first consider how you can protect yourself and your patient. When responding to reviews online, never acknowledge that you have a relationship with the patient, and never give out any personal or medical information about their case. Instead, address the issue generally and use it as an opportunity to create a teachable moment for a larger audience. Another approach is writing a private letter to the patient addressing their reaction, and offering potential solutions. You’ll often find patients will make the effort to change their negative review to a glowing one.
Embracing Online Transparency
One of the best ways to combat negativity online is to create a critical mass of reviews. Physicians who actively ask for patient reviews after each visit will expand the number of reviews online, making the negative ones stand out less. Inviting feedback also puts you in a more empowered position, and tells patients that you care what they think.
Academic medical centers, hospitals and other health systems have been creating their own patient feedback methods with great success. The University of Utah Health Care was among the first to post its survey data and comments online, and in the first three years, saw almost half of its physicians scoring in the top decile among their peers nationally. Dr. Vivian Lee also notes, “First sharing benchmarked feedback with physicians privately, providing opportunities for learning and improvement, and then increasing transparency is effective” for defusing issues with physician morale and well-being.
In the world of online reviews, physicians need to mitigate negativity that may hurt their practice. Create HIPAA-sensitive strategies that capitalize on the value of feedback. Taking advantage of transparency will not only prove worthwhile, but will let your patients know that you are really listening.