Once upon a time, a doctor’s reputation was mostly a matter of word of mouth; these days, it’s more like word of mouse, in which the tap of a key can send a bad — and often anonymous — online review reverberating across the Internet in an instant.
Should you respond to bad reviews? Ignore them? Try to counter them or pursue legal recourse? For the opinions of a doctor with a solid reputation amongst peers, we caught up with Donn Chatham, M.D., former AAFPRS president and a 25-year facial plastic surgery specialist, after he gave a presentation called “Difficult Patients in the Digital Age” at the group’s recent Rejuvenation of the Aging Face workshop in San Diego.
MediBeauty.biz (MB): How do you define “reputation” when it comes to your practice?
Donn Chatham (DC): A positive reputation is based on things like personality, clinical and surgical skills, patient management — how well one takes care of one’s patients — community involvement and quality of staff. It’s a lifelong effort. The old expression is that it takes a lifetime to build but it can be lost in a moment.
MB: What role do you see the web having on a doctor’s reputation?
DC: Regarding the internet, part of a doctor’s image involves the content about that doctor on the web. This includes a website, links to other sites including bona fide organizations, links to articles and quotes related to one’s business.
It also includes sites like RealSelf and “doctor rating” sites. I am not sure how well some of the doctor rating sites oversee the content that sometimes is posted. Sometimes it seems that a particularly hurtful rant is posted that borders on the scurrilous and malicious, perhaps even defaming.
MB: What would you do if one of your patients wrote a scathing review on a site like Yelp?
DC: It depends on the particulars. You can either choose to ignore it or address it. Some are best to simply ignore — hopefully, there are other positive comments as well. If there are more positive reviews than negative ones, then a reader will understand this. I like how Tom Seery summarized this by saying, “The solution to pollution is dilution,” i.e., encourage happy patients to post their comments.
MB: And if you decide to address the negative post directly?
DC: First, I’d try to figure out who the patient might be and try to address their concerns face to face. If their comments were really personally hurtful, I’d request that they remove it. If that failed and I thought it was really untrue or libelous, I’d contact the website administrator in a friendly manner, explain my reasons for why I think it’s libelous and ask them if they’d remove it.
MB: What wouldn’t you do?
DC: In my opinion, it’s usually best if the doctor does not engage in an online dispute and most of the time, it would be wise to not respond. It’s hard not to take a scathing review personally but what you shouldn’t do is overreact to it and post your own emotional rant back. Once something is said online, it’s in cyberspace forever.
MB: Given the nature of the web, is reputation management a losing battle or do you see a day when this issue will go away?
DC: Reputation, by itself, will always be an issue in every facet of life. The Internet is a little different because so much is said anonymously and without any real validation. Anybody can create their own blog, rant to their heart’s content and invite other people to join in.
MB: Does that anonymity make all such online commentary suspect?
DC: I like when patients rate their satisfaction with a particular procedure or product even if it’s anonymous. If you have a large enough population — several hundred people that represent a good distribution — it’s a collective opinion. If people’s satisfaction with a blepharoplasty is very high and their satisfaction with butt implants is low, that can be very helpful for someone considering procedures
I also like to think that the majority of people who go online have the common sense to not focus on every little bit of negativity any more than they believe every tabloid headline they see in the supermarket.