How to Respond

How to Respond to Patient Online Criticism Without Violating the Law or Using Anti-Review Contracts

Doctors commonly feel that privacy laws and professional ethics prevent them from responding to patients’ online reviews. Medical Justice’s sales pitch makes a big point of this.  (See herehere and here). However, doctors can legally and ethically respond to patients’ online reviews in a variety of ways.

How can I respond to online reviews? I thought that would violate patient privacy?

The most common patient complaints do not relate to a doctor’s medical advice or treatment; instead, they relate to non-confidential aspects of a doctor’s business operations, such as parking, wait times, and staff attitudes. See this study regarding the most common types of patient reviews.  Doctors can easily respond to these concerns without violating patient privacy.  For example, doctors can freely explain how they handle billing, scheduling, prescriptions and other general aspects of their services without either confirming or denying that a particular reviewer was their patient.

Doctors can use a similar approach in response to patients’ complaints about the doctor’s medical advice or treatment. Doctors can generally discuss how they handle their practices and their patients as well as the medical care and standards they use. Read an article discussing these issues here. Doctors can also request a specific patient’s consent to respond.

I feel like review websites don’t look out for doctors.

Review/ratings websites are increasingly aware of doctors’ concerns and are constantly improving their services to be more doctor-friendly. For example, at Angie’s List, patients now must give their names when posting, and the site is experimenting with asking patients to waive their privacy rights so that doctors can directly respond to particular patient complaints. As another example, DrScore only publishes an aggregate score for each doctor on its site, averaged across all of its reviewing patients. The individual patients’ written comments aren’t published, but DrScore does deliver them anonymously to the doctor.

Someone has posted a false review, and it’s hurting my professional reputation. What can I do?

First, you can respond generally to the complaints in the review without identifying the patient or confirming they saw you. Second, you can ask the patient for consent to respond to the review. Finally, if an inaccurate online review has harmed you, you often have the option to sue the reviewer directly.  See some examples of actions by doctors here and here.

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[Note: we initially posted this page in 2011. A few months later, Medical Justice “retired” its form. In 2016, Congress enacted the Consumer Review Fairness Act banning anti-review contracts.]

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