Social Media: Handling Negative Comments

social mediaFacebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Youtube….Social media has become the norm in day to day existence, including in the urgent care market.  Comments that patients leave can be seen as a digital fingerprint that reflects a center or brand in either a positive or negative light.

Steve Samudrala, MD, owner of America’s Family Doctors, says that he has been using social media since it came out and so have other doctors, either willingly or unwillingly.

“The interesting thing about social media is that as a physician, even if you don’t utilize it, you are utilizing it because your name will be out there with all of the Vitals, Health Grades and Google, etc.  People can review you even if you don’t use it.  Pretty much as a physician these days, even if you don’t work for a large hospital or organization, you pretty much have to use social media to keep yourself protected,” Samudrala says.

Although some responses on social media are positive and constructive, Samudrala says that if a physician sees enough patients they are going to eventually have a patient who doesn’t like them for whatever reason.

Bill Horton, partner with Jones Walker LLP says to some degree, the response method is going to depend on where that feedback is.

“If you are talking about something that is on, for example a Yelp review, if there is a positive comment that is posted there, there is nothing wrong with responding with a “Thank you, we were glad to be of help” or, “We hope you’ll call anytime we can be of service,” or something like that,” Horton says.

“If it’s something that’s on a Twitter or Facebook post, then, again, I think it depends on what your normal interactions on those kinds of platforms are.”

Horton explains that most businesses typically are not engaged on Facebook except through their business pages, which tend to be just announcements.

“If somebody posted a negative statement about a provider or that provider’s business on the person’s own Facebook page, I don’t know that I would worry a lot about that.  You may or may not have any capacity to respond to it.  Beyond that, it’s by definition going to a fairly limited audience and is going to be, in most cases, overtaken by the next set of posts fairly quickly,” Horton says.

Countering the Negative Response

I think the danger that you have to watch out for, no matter what the setting is, is when you get those negative comments.  There is a temptation to respond with a defensive response.  You’ve got to be careful with that kind of thing for a couple of reasons.  One is that you keep the negative post alive when you respond to it.  If it’s on a platform that notifies people when there is a new post on a topic, whenever you try to post a response that is going to bring the original negative comment back to the attention of people who may have missed it the first time,” Horton says.

From a health care provider perspective, Horton says you have always got to be concerned about HIPAA and other patient confidentiality issues.

“If you have a situation where there is a disgruntled patient or a disgruntled family member who is posting negative comments about you in social media, it can be fairly easy to slip up in trying to respond to that and say something that would be a violation of the HIPAA rules or state-law confidentiality requirements.  I think you’ve got to be very cautious if you are responding to comments posted by individual patients or their family members,” Horton says.

Horton says it is very hard to defend a negative comment without looking like you are getting down in the gutter yourself.  He says that stooping to the level of the commenter doesn’t create the sort of image that people would expect from their healthcare providers.

“If you feel like you have to respond, I think the best response is probably to get in an appropriate forum and say “We are sorry that you were not satisfied with your experience.  We welcome you to give us a call and discuss what we can do to make this right with you,”” Horton says.

Samudrala says the biggest way to counter a negative comment is a “Thank you for your feedback.”

“I think you should just keep it short and simple.  You can’t really go into detail.  There is HIPAA and things like that where you can’t really get down to their level of specifics in your response,” Samudrala says.

“At the same point in time, stress that you appreciate all feedback even when it is constructive.  All we can do is try our best and that’s it.  You then just take the high road.”

Samudrala says the idea of responding in general is a tough thing mentally for physicians because you are not exactly apologizing for something that you did wrong.  You are just apologizing that the feedback is out there and that’s it.

“At the minimum, if you get something constructive, acknowledge it.  If you can reach out to the patient, that’s fine too.  There have been patients out there who got upset, yelped at us quicker than they really should, for something that we didn’t do wrong.  I could go ahead and ask them to take it down, but usually they don’t.  If they want to take it down, that’s fine, if they don’t that’s fine too,” Samudrala says.

Susan Karpiel, Part Owner and Director of Marketing and Client Relations, at Playa Vista Medical Center, says that when it comes to social media her clinic always wants to provide the best patient experience possible and goes to great lengths so most patients can be seen and discharged within an hour.

Karpiel says her clinic stresses the importance of social media to its physicians and staff as a widely accepted and used communications forum for patients to indicate their patient satisfaction and visit experience.

“We strive to define ourselves and the services we provide by branding ourselves as providing high quality compassionate medical care to everyone that comes through the door.  We hope patients also look at social media as a way to say thank you.  We truly want to know about any problems, but we also want to recognize when our physicians and staff are doing a good job,” Karpiel says.

Karpiel says her clinics review any negative response on their own merit. If any negative feedback is posted, Karpiel says her business wants to acknowledge the patient’s concerns within 48 hours of the posting of the comment.  During those 48 hours Karpiel will work with her Clinic Manager and if appropriate her Medical Director, to determine what transpired during the patient encounter.  She will post a public acknowledge and if appropriate, she will ask the patient contact her directly and offline to discuss the problem and see what can be done to satisfy the patient’s concern.  Karpiel reiterated that her clinic’s patients seem to like this approach and some have even posted an updated review to thank us for taking the time to care.

“We want our patients to know we listen and care and will try and do whatever possible to make it right,” Karpiel says.

“We look at any negative feedback individually and constructively we look into what we can do to make it right for the patient” she explains.  “We always acknowledge and thank the patient for bringing it to our attention.”

Karpiel admits that like anyone, there can be a mistake; but hopefully these will be be far and in between for any clinic as monitor their patient feedback and implement changes as appropriate on a timely basis.

Patients have discovered that they have several mediums to share their feedback and patient experiences.  Per Karpiel “Timeliness is essential and is very important in conveying that the clinic, physicians and staff listen and genuinely care about you the patient.”


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