3 tips to help physicians manage online criticism

A continuing series on physician online reputation.  Created in partnership with the Doctors Company as part of their social media resources for physicians

Patients have more avenues than ever to express themselves online, whether it’s through a physician rating site or through social media. It’s inevitable that every single doctor eventually will be faced with criticism on the web, so you need to know what to do when that happens. Here are a few tips.

My first tip is to listen to that criticism, because when patients leave reviews on the web, it’s the only way they can have a voice. Whenever patients leave my exam room, I don’t know what they thought about me, the nurses, the medical assistants, whether there was enough parking, whether the magazines in the waiting room were up to date. All of these issues matter to patients, and you need to hear about them to see if there’s anything correctable.

Whenever you hear about criticism on the web, there’s a strong temptation to respond to it immediately. You want to set the record straight. You want to clear the air, right? That leads you to my second tip. Instead, take that conversation offline, because it’s rare that any type of online argument is going to result in anything productive.

Perhaps you can have a standard reply thanking that patient for his comment, asking him to call the clinic. If you could resolve the dispute over the phone or in person, that patient may take down his comment or even add an addendum saying, “You know what? This office is listening to what I have to say.” That can turn a negative situation into a potentially more constructive one.

Here’s my final tip: Don’t sue; avoid the courts. There are very few lawsuits where doctors successfully sued rating sites that take on negative ratings. I was reading an interview with the spokesperson at Yelp, and he said that Yelp will not honor any physician request to take down negative ratings because it’s going to infringe on patients’ rights to free speech.

Also, don’t sue patients. A doctor once sued a patient for a negative review and it made front page headlines in the newspaper. Now whenever you Google that doctor’s name, that newspaper story comes up as the first result. That’s an example of what’s known as the Streisand effect. Back in the early 2000s, Barbra Streisand sued a group of photographers who were taking a picture of her Malibu home, and an unintended consequences of that lawsuit is that it brought more attention to those pictures.

If you sue patients, you’re just going to bring more attention to that criticism. Don’t sue; avoid the courts; beware of the Streisand effect. Those are just a few tips to manage criticism on the Web.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is on the editorial board of contributors, USA Today, and is founder and editor, KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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