“Save yourself a huge headache and your time and go somewhere else!” “I don’t care that this place is just a mile from my house. I’ll travel 15 miles just for better service if I have to.”“Employees sneer and make rude gestures behind each other’s backs, very unprofessional.”
Sounds harsh, but these are real reviews of Southern Nevada doctors floating around the Internet right now.
In a perfect world, doctors wouldn’t be subjected to negative comments by one-time patients, long-time clients, complete strangers or friends of former patients on a digital quest for revenge.
But, this is America.
Freedom of speech is an American societal pillar and patients are taking that freedom beyond “OMG, this doctor is totally bad” verbal conversations within their circle of friends and having “OMG, this doctor is totally bad” conversations on the web, reaching a much larger audience.
The majority of doctor reviews, even when laced with severe criticism and fiery language, are well within the law and within site regulations. Some patients simply have bad experiences that don’t meet their individual expectations and want to assure that new and existing patients know exactly what to expect.
In reaction to negative reviews, some doctors have tried to file lawsuits for defamation, but quickly realize that defamation is incredibly difficult to prove, especially if the doctor is considered to be a “public figure.” Courts generally side with those voicing an opinion, unless the opinion is significantly fabricated or completely false.
Some doctors respond to reviews with just as much anger and expletives as their reviewers. Angry rebuttals by doctors typically lead to a nasty, drawn-out, publicly-visible conversation and stray from the professionalism associated with the medical industry.
So, what do you do to protect your online reputation on doctor review sites?
According to Lindsay Alford, social media specialist for MassMedia, the worst thing you can do is be absent from the online conversation.
“It is essential for practices to participate in social media and monitor online reviews regularly,” said Alford. “Either you manage your online reputation, or your patients and competitors will do it for you. Monitoring reviews helps you identify customer care concerns and maintain a quality health care experience.”
Most doctors’ names appear on Yelp, Vitals.com, RateMDs, AngiesList and/or HealthGrades already. Most doctors also have a handful of reviews attached to his/her name, some positive and some negative.
A doctor’s first inclination when responding to an adverse review may be to draft a wordy, negative rant. In reality, doctors should do the exact opposite.
“The best way to respond to a negative review is to keep your response simple and positive,” said Alford. “Listen first, engage second and talk last. Your patients want to be heard. They also want to know you care.”
In an effort to personalize patient concerns, doctors should also suggest taking negative feedback out of the public spotlight and into personal conversation.
“Remember, other patients, potential patients, and future partners are observing,” said Alford. “Also, once you have resolved a concern, kindly ask your patient to retract or update their review.”
Social reviews carry immense weight on Google and other heavyweight search engines like Bing and Yahoo. The pure amount of written content on social review sites is enough to carry the sites and the reviews right to the top of search results. Thus, it’s important to collaborate with social review sites to keep your contact information and clinic address updated and accurate.
Dr. Stephen J. Portz, director of cardiology for HealthCare Partners of Nevada and a recently awarded “Top Doc” by Vegas Seven magazine, joined HealthCare Partners earlier this year after serving patients at a Las Vegas clinic for eight and a half years. When he joined HealthCare Partners, Dr. Portz moved his practice to a new, state-of-the-art facility at the medical office building at Southern Hills Hospital.
To notify his patients of his clinic change, Dr. Portz sent out 12,000 letters with his new address, but some patients were still finding his old address in online search results. Portz, who sees 25 to 30 patients daily, learned the importance of keeping information updated online.
“At first, I assumed that everything would automatically be changed with my transition,” said Portz. “In reality, I had to work with sites to update my address and contact information and it did take some time. It is important for patients to have the right phone number and address, or else they will not find you.”
In addition to keeping information updated, doctors must develop a social review strategy. Sites like HealthGrades and Yelp are the new frontier for referrals, recommendations and communal reputation. Doctors must explore this important channel to their advantage by monitoring social reviews daily, responding to negative reviews with professionalism and regularly generating positive reviews from their clients.