Online reviews can be found for just about everything – restaurants, hotels, health clubs – and even for healthcare services and the professional who provide the care.  And these reviews can carry an incredible amount of weight.  Studies have shown up to 70% of people who look at online review trust these recommendations – even though they come from complete strangers.  This, despite the fact that that we know people usually only take the time to post about something if they are either very happy or very upset. Everyday, quality care rarely gets a review.

Popular internet reviews sites, such as Yelp™ and Healthgrades©, have a growing influence on the reputation of healthcare professionals.  Google™ reviews are everywhere and probably show up more than all other review sites.  In the past, the majority of healthcare-related reviews were directed at physicians.  However, increasingly patients are using these and other online sites to openly share their experiences with hospitals, pharmacies, out-patient clinics and home care companies. 

Online reviews of the services provided by healthcare professionals are in some ways more challenging to deal with than those offered by say a spa or a coffee shop. For one thing, confidentiality obligations can restrict a healthcare provider’s ability to respond to a negative review. Patients, on the other hand, are not prevented from singling out a specific practitioner or location.  In addition, healthcare is unique in that a practitioner can do everything right and the patient may still feel that the outcome was not what is should have been. Somethings are simply beyond our control. 

It can also be very difficult to get a negative review removed from an online review site, however there are things that you can do to lessen the impact and protect your reputation.  If a review violates the terms of service of an online provider like Google™ – such as if they are abusive or threatening – you can flag them as inappropriate and contact the provider to ask to have the review taken down.

Even though dealing with online reviews in a healthcare scenario can be difficult, it is important to be aware of what reviews are out there and whether they reveal anything that should be addressed. You should resist the temptation to respond publicly to a negative review – unless you truly think you will be able to improve the situation. Becoming defensive or engaging in an ongoing online discussion with a patient or their family will likely only make things worse.  Your focus should always be on providing the best possible care to your patients and learn what you can from feedback – regardless of the source.

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