Physicians and Negative Online Reviews: Think Before You Sue

April 10, 2013
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negative physician reviewsiHealthBeat has an article about physicians increasingly suing patients over negative online reviews, ratings and/or comments.  This absolutely floors me.  Why?

negative physician reviewsiHealthBeat has an article about physicians increasingly suing patients over negative online reviews, ratings and/or comments.  This absolutely floors me.  Why?  Because patients finally have a voice and outlets to share their experience — what they like and don’t like!  More importantly, other consumers and patients have an opportunity to learn from those experiences.  This is the new world of transparancy! And, yes, it is free speech!

Now, I’m a practical person — and a former hospital risk manager.  So, I know when a review can get ugly and cross the line to a true legal cause.  But this probably won’t/shouldn’t be a frequent occurrance.  It is also likely that comments may also be emotionally charged, like the example of the husband posting about his deceased wife. 

Patients and family members who have had poor experiences use to spread their dissatisfaction word of mouth, or perhaps via a letter to the editor of the local paper.  Today’s online sites do help them reach a broader audience.

But consider what we already know about lawsuits against healthcare providers — and that they are most likely the result of communication breakdowns.  In today’s social world, my guess is that these same communications breakdowns are also leading to a negative comments online.  As painful as it may be to see these unwelcomed comments, I caution my physician friends to not respond with legal action.  Instead, take an objective look at the case, communications and processes and identify opportunities for improvement.  Can you imagine the power of that same person posting an update extending appreciation to the physician for resolving the complaint?

Another action that can diffuse negative comments  — and preserve your reputation — is to encourage those who have had a great experience to share it with others.  Promoting your social channels is a starting point to encouraging these patients to share, and blend the good with the bad.

“Think before you post” is one of my recommendations to audiences.  I think I should also add “don’t respond with ugly — think before you sue”!

(image: negative patient feedback / shutterstock)