Physicians’ and dentists’ personal interests and opinions can sometimes expose their practices to unwanted attention, particularly with the rate information travels today. For example, the recent negative publicity surrounding a Minnesota dentist whose hunting pastime made worldwide news, resulted in backlash that disrupted his practice. The overwhelming negative attention led to shutting down his professional social media accounts, practice website and the doors to his practice during this frenzy. The flood of negative comments online, directed at him personally, now sit side by side with reviews of his professional ability on third-party rating and review websites. This may be an extreme scenario, but it does illustrate the power of how online reviews and commentary can affect a physician and his or her practice. Because of this, proactive steps should be taken by health care providers to safeguard their practice from negative online publicity or comments that may occur.
Consider the following recommendations:
- Add health & wellness articles, frequent announcements, or other content to your practice website to help you control your message. Work with your group administrator or medical director as necessary.
- Maintain separate professional and personal profiles.
- Develop a social media plan for your practice. Search for your name online periodically. Consider having a designated, trained individual who responds quickly and tactfully to reviews and comments when warranted. Comply with privacy laws.
- Periodically check rating websites for yourself or your practice to identify any specific issue or trends that you can proactively address.
- Provide an office satisfaction survey. If appropriate, use positive information you have gathered in your marketing and social media campaign. Negative information should be evaluated objectively and addressed appropriately.
Physicians and dentists can quickly become public figures, so it is important to consider using privacy controls and setting boundaries between personal and professional online profiles. Physicians and dentists who choose to respond in writing to reviews should consider moving the discussion to a private forum with a response like, “I’m sorry you had that experience. I’d like to discuss it with you. Please contact my office.” Avoid using patient identifiers or revealing any protected health information, of course.
It is important to have measures in place for how to respond to negative physician ratings online. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Do not respond immediately or impulsively. Take time to consider the comment, reflect on why the individual felt compelled to post and decide if it is even worthy of response. Not all negative comments are worthy of your time to respond. Engaging someone may start a chain reaction of negative commentary and potentially may aggravate the situation.
- If you feel the information is untrue, inappropriate or simply meant to be provocative, try contacting the Internet website administrator. Since rating sites have content guidelines, the administrator may remove information that violates the site’s terms.
- Honestly look at yourself and the way you practice in light of the reviews (good or bad). Maybe the reviews will have useful information, maybe they won’t. You won’t know unless you read them and consider them with an open mind.
As social websites continue to increase in popularity, physicians and dentists need to understand the potential backlash if their responses are not well received by the general public or the individual in question. It is wise to have a strategy in place to help prevent a scenario that could lead to irreparable harm to your reputation.