Up to 77% of patients use online reviews as a first step to finding a new doctor. And a study published in the Journal of General Medicine found that 53% of doctors consult these online portals to understand the direct experiences of their patients and improve their services accordingly.
In the age of immediate access to online platforms such as Google, Yelp, and Healthgrades, patients are able to share medical reviews, many of which are positive but can sometimes be negative and potentially false. The reviews are often the first thing a patient sees or knows of a doctor. A good online review history can bring patients to your door, increase referrals, confirm recommendations made by friends/family and even bring patients out of the social media network.
Negative reviews are detrimental to the doctor’s professional and personal reputation, but the way a doctor responds can have a worse effect. Before a doctor responds to a negative online review, he must consider the legal implications.
Doctors and other health care professionals in America should know that online sites with patient reviews are immune to most litigation pursuant to Article 230 of the Decency Act of the Communication. The law was approved by Congress in part to promote the continued development of the Internet and encourage free competition in the market. Establishes that “the provider or user of an interactive computer service must be treated as editors or speakers of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, in most cases, the law holds the sites online exempt from liability for defamatory statements made by third parties.
Defending oneself has pitfalls
Doctors should also be cautious in responding to online patient reviews to avoid being accused of privacy violations. Even if a patient has shared his personal medical information online, doctors are still prohibited from disclosing patient information under HIPAA and state privacy laws. As a doctor, it can be frustrating to receive a negative or false review. Still, it is important not to spread online treatment decisions or even to reveal that those who left the feedback were a followed patient.
Rather than responding directly to patient reviews and becoming the target of a potential cause, doctors may want to consider less defensive strategies. For example, in Indiana, health professionals attempting to sue defamation patients in connection with reviews and online posts should also be aware of the so-called Anti-SLAPP Statute, which provides for the timely dismissal of disputes aimed at suppressing freedom of speech in connection with a public problem and a fee for legal fees.
Some alternatives for doctors
An alternative is to contact the patient by telephone or offer to meet in person to discuss the situation and reach a mutual understanding. If the patient is concerned about a therapeutic decision, it may be useful to revisit the conversation and explain the best practices or standards used by the clinic, hospital or other medical facilities.
Doctors can also take the approach of encouraging patient feedback, as an increase in positive reviews can reduce the impact of some negative reviews. Finally, doctors should use social media and other online platforms to their advantage by keeping their online profiles up to date.