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Best of 2017: Online Reviews - of Burritos and Doctors

A new patient came in today; he noted that he made an appointment with me after reading a favorable online review on YELP about our practice. 

After his visit, he looked around the office and stalled at the checkout counter. I was not sure whether he wanted a tour of our office or had additional questions.  Stammering for a minute, he came out and blurted, “Where do I get the burritos?”  I was puzzled until he said the online review had mentioned the doctors were good, but the burritos were outstanding! He stated that we were listed as a go to 5 star burrito place!  I remembered then that a few months ago, my staff had given a patient a burrito plate from our staff lunch party because she felt bad that the patient had waited so long for labs. I had to clarify with my new patient that we see patients but do not run a restaurant business and only rarely provide burritos. 

Online reviews can be good free advertising for practices, but sometimes misleading information can be posted as well. In the era of FAKE NEWS, doctors should be vigilant about what is being posted online.

Occasionally, I look on or to see what is being posted about me.  One of the most memorable posts was a man who was upset that I worked part time. He wrote, “I can’t have a part time doctor when I got a full time disease!” What a great line for a country song!  

Typically, most goods/services are not posted if the customer is satisfied; however, bad posts prevail if there is an unfavorable interaction.  Patients have 3 options if they do not like the experience they have with their doctors: 1. File a lawsuit (costly and time consuming) 2. File a complaint with the medical board (takes too long to investigate/navigate) 3. Post a negative review (most effective to divert business away from the practice). The latter is made easy by social media (Facebook) and internet (Yahoo, Yelp, Healthgrades) opportunities to voice the patient opinion.

One of my colleagues, an ophthalmologist, noted that it took 2 negative reviews to drop her ratings (there were 20 reviews at that time). Since that time, she has asked all of her patients to post online reviews; she now has 1000 reviews and her ratings have been excellent.  

She is a perfect example of how doctors should be proactive in “dressing up” their practices for the public. The passive aggressive approach of grumbling about bad online reviews and persnickety responses should be avoided; in fact, this can pose a threat for HIPPA violation. Stories have been published by the medical liability insurance companies warning doctors not to respond to negative online reviews due to risk for HIPPA violations. 

There was one story that made an impression on me that had been filed with the Texas Medical Board: the patient posted a bad review on a doctor, stating he was late for the appointment, was in a bad mood, and did not listen to her. The doctor unfortunately responded that she had a long list of complaints that gave him a headache.  

So how do you respond to negative reviews? Proper social etiquette would dictate that instead of replying online to the review, the doctor would contact the patient directly if the identity of the individual was known.  If the issues were resolved satisfactorily for both parties, then chances are the patient will retract the negative reviews.  If this cannot be done, it might be best to flood online space with positive reviews from other patients. 

The proactive approach is to encourage positive reviews from patients by posting an office sign (like the ophthalmologist above) that states “Be Sure to Rate Us On" and list local websites that rate physicians (Yahoo, Yelp, Healthgrades).

My review of, “Great online space for keeping up with current events in rheumatology; glad it is available!”  Now, off to enjoy my next burrito!



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The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

Kathryn Dao, MD, FACP, FACR, is a rheumatologist and Senior Medical Director, Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, passionate about advocating for patients and furthering the field of rheumatology. She is founder and president of Rheum101. Viewpoints and opinions are her own. Follow her on twitter @KDAO2011