Should I Respond to a Negative Online Review?

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A cartoon of a phone screen showing ratings and reviews.

Q: One of my patients has written a negative review about my practice. Should I respond to the review and provide my side of the story about the interaction?

A: It can be frustrating and upsetting when you receive a negative online review about yourself or your practice. However, unlike other businesses that may respond to stinging online reviews in a way they deem appropriate, physicians are extremely limited in what and how they can communicate with a patient reviewer.

While a patient is free to share any information about their experience in an online forum, physicians are prohibited by Ontario privacy legislation from disclosing any patient-specific information.

Physicians have the option of flagging a review for removal on some sites, such as RateMDs, if it contains inappropriate/hateful/threatening language or the reviewer floods your profile with negative reviews. But if the reviewer complains you tend to run late for appointments or you dismissed their concerns, it likely won’t be removed.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association suggests physicians take a deep breath and walk away before doing anything rash. “Posting a poorly considered response online might only escalate a situation unnecessarily or create additional medical-legal issues, such as if you breach doctor-patient confidentiality,” it stated in an article advising physicians on how to maintain their virtual presence.

See negative reviews in the spirit of quality improvement.

While CPSO’s Social Media policy does not specifically address the handling of online reviews, it does require physicians uphold the standards of medical professionalism, conduct themselves in a professional manner and not engage in disruptive behaviour while using social media.

Even if you feel unfairly targeted, engaging an unhappy patient in a war of words on a public forum is likely to worsen the situation for you, said Dr. Anil Chopra, an emergency medicine physician and CPSO Medical Advisor.

Other suggestions include:

  • See negative reviews in the spirit of quality improvement. If several reviewers echo similar sentiments, it may suggest that an aspect of your practice can be improved.
  • Foster an environment of honest and open communication. If patients feel comfortable discussing their concerns directly with you, it could minimize negative online reviews.
  • Develop mechanisms to obtain patient feedback. Some patients may never feel comfortable discussing their concerns with you directly. Consider bringing in an anonymous feedback survey to determine patients’ satisfaction levels.
  • Do not try and direct patients’ activities on social media. Do not encourage patients to write positive reviews about you or have patients sign agreements that they will not post negative reviews.

Dr. Chopra suggests physicians not be unnerved by the occasional bad review. “Most people are reasonable and understand that nobody is perfect or going to be admired by all people, all the time,” he said.