Skip to main content


Protecting Your Online Reputation

Mar 27, 2019 09:00AM ● By MED Magazine

By Dean McConnell

Dean McConnell, JD, is Senior Legal Counsel with COPIC, a leading provider of medical professional liability insurance.

The Internet provides many forums where patients can publish comments about their medical care, and this can include negative comments. Patient complaints often share one common denominator—a breakdown in the physician-patient relationship. What is the best way to deal with negative online comments?

Recognize That the Patient is Unhappy

  • Negative comments invoke defensive reactions. Despite these normal reactions, the patient’s concerns must be addressed in a professional manner.

  • Remember that a negative comment is only one patient from your practice. A majority of the other patients are most likely very happy.

  • While action is often prudent, it needs to be measured and appropriate to the context

Respond Positively

  • Don't fall into the trap of joining an insult contest. A belligerent commenter may be hoping to engage in a public debate in which they are not bound by any rules.

  • Acknowledge that the patient is not satisfied, that patient satisfaction is important, and ask to take the conversation offline to address the issue.

  • People will often say things online that they would never say face-to-face. A phone call provides a better chance of connecting with the patient and solving the problem.

  • Tailor the response to the specific complaint and send it via a private, secure medium such as a letter or phone call (secure email is also okay, if the patient has set up an account with your practice). It should be documented like any other patient communication.

  • Before responding, cool off. Let it sit overnight and ask a trusted colleague to review your response.

  • Be careful about HIPAA. Do not include treatment or payment information or provide patient names or identifying information in your response.

  • Sometimes (e.g., when a negative comment appears on your own practice website), an online response may be called for. Ignoring a complaint might indicate that you are not attentive or concerned.

  • Don’t simply delete adverse comments from your website. An author may re-publish—and embellish—a neglected complaint on other sites.

React Appropriately

  • Patient complaints always have a basis in a perception. An explanation and an apology may be all it takes to resolve the situation.

  • Sometimes patients are right. Maybe they had a bad interaction with your staff. Take this opportunity to evaluate the practice and improve it.

  • Try to understand the situation from the patient’s perspective and consider whether there is some concession you can live with.

  • Patients who have been heard will sometimes remove their own negative comment or, better yet, post a positive one about the doctor listening and addressing the problem.

  • Maybe a patient is just not the right fit for your practice and you can provide him or her with a referral to a colleague that might be a better fit.

Rally the Troops

Certain activities help build a positive presence online. Suggested efforts include outreach to patients to build a good following online or asking patients to post reviews. When there is a negative comment, it will look like an outlier and provoke positive responses from your followers.