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Dealing with Negative Comments Online

Jun 20, 2019 07:00AM ● By MED Magazine

By COPIC’s Patient Safety and Risk Management Department

With the prominence of social media and websites that offer customer reviews, there are endless opportunities for sharing one’s opinions.

However, the legitimacy of these opinions - and making decisions based on them - can be lead to a charged discussion, especially when it comes to medical care. For physicians, negative reviews can be frustrating because of concerns about how these may impact patient satisfaction scores or may not reflect the actual care provided.

There is reason to be concerned. A recent Mayo Clinic Proceedings study1 showed that non-physician variables—such as interactions with desk staff, appointment access, waiting time, and billing—can appear to reflect unfairly on negative physician reviews.

According to a 2014 JAMA article1, nearly 20% of surveyed patients said that physicians’ ratings on websites are very important, and 40% said the websites are somewhat important, when looking for a primary care physician. Of those who used the web to search for physicians, 35% say they picked a doctor based on good ratings, while 27% reported avoiding those with bad ratings.

While you can’t control what is posted, you can control how you react and take steps to deal with this issue.

A January 2016 Medscape article2 titled, “Trashed on the Internet: What to do Now” offered this advice regarding physician review sites:

  • Recognize that negative reviews can happen to any physician.

  • Most review sites allow you to submit a complaint if you believe a comment is fraudulent; they may be able to track down the IP address of the reviewer and, if the post is illegitimate, remove it.

  • Reviews that sound irrational to you are likely to sound irrational to others.

  • If you respond, keep it polite, general, and only respond once; be sure any response is HIPAA-compliant—some providers who have responded to negative reviews have inadvertently made the mistake of revealing protected health information.

  • Many reviews focus on a provider’s indifference, bedside manner, or customer service rather than his or her medical skills. Consider these types of comments as opportunities to improve your practice.

Other actions to consider when monitoring your online reputation:

  • Search your name or practice on a regular basis to see what comes up.

  • Set up Google Alerts ( for your practice name and the names of your physicians.

  • If you are listed on a physician review site, review your profile to make sure the information is up-to-date and accurate.

  • Some review sites provide resources to help encourage your patients to post reviews. For example, Healthgrades offers postcards to give to patients that include a personalized link they can use to complete a survey about you.

Some Popular Online Physician Review Sites:

1 JAMA. 2014;311(7):734-735. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.283194