Vital Signs Blog

Docs should make the most of online rating sites

The Wall Street Journal has a good piece today on how physicians are responding to online consumer rating sites, which a growing number of patients are using to select a doctor. A study cited by the Journal found that online reviews generally are reliable indicators of patients' opinions about doctors.

Modern Healthcare's Sabriya Rice reported in March on online doctor rating sites. Her story cited a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found 35% of consumers surveyed reported selecting a physician based on good reviews, while 37% avoided a doctor based on bad reviews. However, 43% of survey respondents reported a “lack of trust” in physician-rating sites, and many still preferred word-of-mouth referrals from family and friends.

Doctors remain wary of such rating sites, and some have sued people who have posted negative comments about them.

But Sabriya's article quoted experts saying doctors should embrace the trend rather than fight it, and the Journal article gives an example of a savvy family medicine group in Orange County, Calif., Caduceus Medical Group, that did just that.

“Viewing the law as a way of dealing with this is very shortsighted,” David Ardia, co-director of the University of North Carolina Center for Media Law and Policy, told Modern Healthcare. Rather, doctors should regard these sites as potential opportunities to communicate excellence, he added.

First, doctors should differentiate opinion from false factual statements on these sites, said Ronnie Dean, vice president of sales and marketing for Medical Justice, a group that works with doctors on medical-legal matters. He recommended writing a diplomatically worded note to the website's administrator, asking the site to consider whether a particular post complies with its terms of use policies.

“Do not sweat an isolated negative review,” he advised. “The public understands you cannot make everyone happy. But the public also expects you will make most patients happy.”

Another consultant urges doctors to contact site posters directly if possible, acknowledge the patient's issue, and offer to rectify the situation if appropriate. The goal is to get a positive update from the consumer, said Gary Truitt, founder of Fat Brain Interactive, which helps healthcare providers manage their online presence.

Both Dean and Truitt suggested that doctors establish their own online system for seeking feedback from patients, especially those who have had a positive experience. “You have to be diligent in asking your patients for online feedback,” Dean said. Then, when the inevitable negative review does surface, “it will be placed in context of the multitude of positives.”

Finally, an apology in appropriate situations goes a long way, Dean said. He cited a case where a surgeon mistakenly performed a tummy tuck instead of liposuction, and the patient ripped the physician online. The surgeon responded by refunding the fee and offering financial assistance during the patient's recovery.

“When all was said and done, that patient recanted the slam, replacing it with a narrative of the physician's supportive actions,” Dean said.

It's not just the consumer-friendly sites taking off, though. In the drive toward transparency, quality and accountability in healthcare, a fast-proliferating array of professional organizations are rating hospitals for consumers, leading to criticisms that the various ratings, rankings and report cards are creating more confusion than clarity. Share your experience in this Modern Healthcare survey.

Follow Harris Meyer on Twitter: @MHHmeyer


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