Addressing comments on your medical practice’s Facebook page

Does your medical practice allow anybody to post links and comments on your Facebook page?

The short answer is yes. We do. Why? Because we think allowing patient to post links and commenting on our practice’s Facebook page helps us achieve these four things:

1. It encourages communication.
2. It allows us to address issues that we would otherwise have a hard time addressing.
3. Other patients will benefit by reading the discussions.
4. We get an opportunity to show how we handle different situations.

Not long ago, we had a parent post a link to our practice Facebook page. The link was to a questionable blog post. The blog post discussed how a lead scientist at Merck claimed that the HPV vaccine was essentially ineffective. The parent wanted to know if we had any thoughts as a practice on the blog post and the claims it made.

Had we not allowed comments and or links on our Facebook page, we would have not known about these claims regarding the HPV vaccine or the blog post. But now, not only did we learn about these claims, we also had a chance to address it and set the record straight.

Without the opportunity to post the link, the mom would have read it, made up her mind, and probably would have not mentioned it again. Or worse yet, told a bunch of her friends.

But now, she can say, I asked my pediatrician about this blog post I found and this is what she had to say and she can reference our response.

Another advantage of letting this parent post a link is that other parents got to learn about this particular blog’s incorrect facts. Nobody else would have known that this is an issue.

But we had an opportunity to address a larger crowd (conceivably our most loyal patients that value our practice) by dispelling the claims and why parents should be careful when reading stuff like this online. In other words, it gives us a chance to educate beyond our four little walls.

If another parent hears the same claim about the HPV from someone, hopefully, they will reference our Facebook page (and this blog post that I wrote on Survivor Pediatrics) and perhaps say, “… yeah I heard about that on my pediatrician’s Facebook page and she basically said that the scientist was misquoted and that there is overwhelming evidence that the vaccine safe,” which is what we said in our response.

It is about being social

Social media is about having “conversations.” It isn’t about a one way communication where the community is not allowed to participate. Fundamentally, the comments section is what separates the old Internet from the new Web 2.0 Internet.

If I were to delete the comment, or ignore it, what does that say about us? What does that say to parents that are checking us out and are deciding if we are the right practice for them?

But what if a patient says something bad about my practice or post a link I don’t approve of?

One bad review should not bring one’s reputation down if you’ve done a good job of establishing a strong online presence. Thus you shouldn’t be fearful of one or two patients.

Also, just because a practice doesn’t let parents post something on their Facebook page doesn’t mean parents can’t go to Yelp or HealthGrades and write something bad about you. People are going to say bad things about you (and me) anyway, so why is that an issue?

But here is the kicker, on Yelp, or any other site, we can’t comment, defend, challenge or do anything with a parent’s comment. But on our Facebook page, we can invite the parent to discuss the issue.

Not only that, other patients will see how open you are to discuss, improve, change, or state your reasons regarding the problem. In other words, we are able to have a little control on how the matter is handled.

Lastly, I would add that all it takes is 3 or 4 great reviews of your practice from patients to downplay the one “bad” review that you got. But if you don’t allow those “fans” to comment, nobody will ever know how great of a practice you are.

So what is the recommendation?

Open up the Facebook page for comments and links. If something bad were to show up, delete it. But I would leave it up there and address it professionally. Most people will respect that.

Brandon Betancourt manages a pediatric practice and blogs at Pediatric Inc.

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  • Anonymous

    We have debated about even having a facebook page – as much as I would love it, we are a psychiatric clinic and it seems dangerous to me – if someone threatened harm to self or others and we did not address it quickly enough….or, it seems that only the unhappy would be open to posting.  Does anyone else have an experience in this area of medicine?

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Look at my post above. It should help. 

      I’ve seen only one instance in past few years where this happened. And it wasn’t the doctor who responded first but rather the other patients on the facebook page that called the doctor’s office immediately and encouraged this patient to call the office. He did. That case was interesting because this person was NOT a previous patient. And now is. 

      However, if the facebook page did not have a lot of followers and engaged visitors this would not have been caught and brought to the attention of the doctor. This is where social media policies are critical. 

      For mental health practices I strongly advise that your social media policies be reviewed by a lawyer. If you don’t have a policy I strongly advise for you to take your social media offline until you do. The same applies to other health care professionals (for example plastic surgeons) who deal with patients who can present with unstable mental health. 

  • Simon Sikorski MD

    It depends on the type of practice, specialty, and size. For mental health practices for example (psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness coaches) social media is a big gamble. For the very few mental health accounts I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, these are well-oiled machines. They have actual social media managers with life science backgrounds spending 3-4 hours a day managing the posts and comments … but none of them responds to “patients” directly. Instead they foster the discussions with follow up questions or new posts. So there are always ways of finding a meaningful interaction. 

    One of them had a negative comment to which the response was “Please review our policy. Doctor X would like to address your concern. Please call ” In the policy it states that patients should strive to resolve their complaint with the doctor at least once and due to HIPAA regulations they cannot address patients in a manner that can expose their confidential information. Nevertheless, the patient was unstable and continued to harass the facebook account. Other patients jumped to defend the doctor and it became quickly evident that this person never addressed the issue with either the staff or the doctor. In this instance, because the social media manager was posting daily and fostered POSITIVE discussions, this unstable patient’s complaints were drowned out in a matter of 2 days.  
    Moral of the story … Facebook & Google+ accounts need a strict social media policy to be displayed front and center. Foster positive discussions. And if your account is static (without daily updates and management of discussions or comment) it is a major liability! 

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