Prevention beats cure: What to do about online doctor rating Web sites

The World Wide Web has become the primary source of medical information for your patients. It’s available 24/7 and provides access to lots of information on healthcare topics—some of which is very high quality.

Key Point: Doctor rating sites are becoming more popular. It’s important to encourage open communication with patients so that they provide both compliments and criticisms to you and your staff on a regular basis. If you can fix a problem before it escalates, patients will be less likely to write a negative online review about your practice. If you do receive a legitimate negative review, look at it as a learning experience, and be sure to address any related issues for a better patient experience.

With so many doctors and patients using the Web, it’s only natural that lots of related changes are going to occur in the way that medicine is practiced. Some of these changes are very positive—for example, the growth of informed e-patients, who ask better questions (http://mdcurrent.in/business-of-medicine/how-physicians-can-teach-patients-to-ask-good-questions/); and the development of the Health 2.0 movement, which uses technology to encourage participatory medicine and empowers patients.

As with everything else, the World Wide Web can be a mixed blessing—and one of the areas of potential concern is the mushrooming of doctor rating sites. After seeing the success of restaurant rating Web sites, it’s hardly surprising that entrepreneurs decided to exploit this area. The past few years have seen an explosion in the growth of[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()] Web sites that allow patients to review and rate—and sometimes rant or rave about—their doctors.

However, take heart: A study that was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2011 found that close to 90% of online physician ratings were, in fact, positive. You can encourage those types of ratings of your practice by communicating proactively with patients and making sure that your medical practice is patient centric.

Manage patient complaints proactively

Although most reviews on doctor rating sites are positive, the fact remains that some will be negative. Medicine is a service profession; and outcomes are uncertain. Complaints are not uncommon, especially when patients have negative outcomes that may be out of your control.

While it’s all very well to take the moral high ground when talking about the right of patients to freely express their opinions about a doctor, I can vouch from personal experience that reading a negative review can raise your hackles very quickly. While some comments may be well-deserved, others are unfair. Some comments may even be planted by the competition.

Prevention is better than cure, and you can try to prevent negative reviews by managing patients’ complaints proactively. It’s best to treat every complaint as a gift! Remember: The fact that the patient has taken the time and trouble to complain means that the patient is not planning to desert you and walk off to the doctor next door. Complaints are actually the best opportunity that we have to understand the patient’s experience, so that we can help to improve it.

In our practice, we actively encourage our patients to provide us with feedback; both compliments and complaints are welcome. Compliments give us a boost and tell us that we are doing a good job. Complaints remind us that we can do better. I always tell my patients: If you are happy with us, please tell the world. If you are not happy with us, please tell us so that we can fix the problem.

While it’s best if you can address and resolve patient dissatisfaction before a patient would go online and complain about your practice, doctor rating sites are a useful tool that allow you to identify problems and fix them.

The best way to prevent potentially negative online ratings is to consistently ask patients for feedback, and when it is valid, be sure to act on the complaint and follow-up with the patient. Ask your staff to do the same, and never make patients feel badly for speaking up. Thank them for being candid and open with you because in the end, their input helps you create a strong practice for all of your patients.


“I always tell my patients: If you are happy with us, please tell the world. If you are not happy with us, please tell us so that we can fix the problem.”
-Aniruddha Malpani, MD, medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India


The art of responding to a complaint

In a perfect world, when a doctor rating site receives a complaint about a doctor, the complaint should be emailed to the doctor, who should be given a chance to provide a rebuttal. This is a basic principle of natural justice. Only when this is done should the complaint be published, if it even deserves to see the light of day.

Allowing the online publication of unmoderated complaints about doctors without giving the doctor a chance to protect him or herself is an unfair system. However, it is not a perfect world, and many rating sites do not bother to check the authenticity or reliability of these complaints. This policy means that even if I have 999 happy patients, 1 unhappy patient could spoil my digital reputation.

If you do receive a negative rating, don’t panic, and don’t allow yourself to become angry. Remember that every patient is entitled to his or her opinion—and it’s humanly impossible for a doctor to keep every patient 100% happy.

Swallow your pride and read the critical review carefully. Is there any truth in it? If so, respond to the review by thanking the reviewer for bringing this problem to your attention; and then describe how you’ve fixed it. The patient who complained, and others who read the review and then your thoughtful follow-up, will likely be pleased that you are responsive and responsible.

If there’s no truth in the claim, do point that out in your response, and explain why.  It’s also a good idea to ask some of your net- savvy patients who are happy with you to post positive reviews. This type of feedback can often help provide a more balanced perspective and undo some of the damage.

There are still very few India-specific doctor rating sites. However, this will change quickly as more Indians get online–and sites like Justdial.com do allow reviews even now.

Putting patients first

The good news is that these doctor rating sites can actually help doctors to become more patient-centric.

Reading the patient feedback stories at doctor rating sites is a good idea for all doctors, because it educates us about what patients want from their doctors. The good news is that what patients want from their physicians is not all that different from what good physicians want to offer to their patients. Patients are generally not unreasonable, high-maintenance consumers; they simply want doctors who care, will listen, and know what they’re doing. By reading the positive ratings, you’ll have role models to emulate; and by reading the negative ratings, you’ll learn what to avoid.

In the big picture, these rating sites are a great opportunity for the medical profession. We should embrace this opportunity to be open and transparent with our patients.

Dr. Malpani is medical director of Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai, India, medical director of the HELP-Health Education Library for People, and author of a physician and patient education blog at http://blog.drmalpani.com/. He is an angel investor in Plus 91 (www.plus91.in), which offers customized Web sites for doctors.

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2 Comments

  1. Dr AVNISH DAVE
    Posted May 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Indeed a very informative article ,as in the current scenario few black sheep are giving a bad impression about the noble profession. There is lack of faith among patients that hampers treatment as well as healing.A positive step for restoring the confidence.

  2. Rajendra
    Posted May 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    “I always tell my patients: If you are happy with us, please tell the world. If you are not happy with us, please tell us so that we can fix the problem.”
    Sir your these words are inspiring. I totally agree wit you

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