How to Deal with Negative Patient Comments on Public Forums

 

So you’re debating whether you should get a website or update your old one. Well, consider this. Online marketing has become an essential part of marketing your practice. So, whether you feel that a website is going to enhance your new patient flow or not, the fact remains that the Internet is now a global forum for reviews and opinions (RateMds.com, Angieslist.com, Healthgrades.com, Yelp.com…to name a few).

So, how are you going to remove a negative experience from a supposed patient on one of these sites?  Well, you could try to call up the site and express your wish that they take down the posting. Not likely to happen. “Constitutionally protected speech”, the forums claim.  In fact, many ‘questionable’ forum sites have been taken to court over allegations that they actually ‘extort’ from the person or business that has been flamed with a negative review(s). The extortion essentially takes place by telling the irate individual or business that the review(s) can be removed ‘for a price’ (the price being…becoming a “sponsored advertiser” in order to be able to “manage” your reviews).

You could sue the person that made the comment (aka. the ‘posters’) if it was based on false and libellous facts. But, legally posters have plenty of latitude, as long as they don’t cross the line into defamation.  Suing the host sites for their user-generated content is, of course, pointless. Under U.S. law, Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA),  the sites are shielded from defamation suits as “the providers and users of an ‘interactive service’ cannot be held liable ‘as a publisher or speaker’ for ‘information provided by another information content provider’.” Canada does not have a law equivalent to Section 230 that provides a safe haven from liability for these entities.

In addition to being difficult to prove and win, allegations of online defamation can also backfire: A lone negative posting may simply disappear into obscurity, but a lawsuit over it can generate exactly the kind of negative publicity that business owners wish to avoid.

So, what do you do? Full circle, back to your website:)  The best defence is a great offence. Out of the thousands of patients that you may see over the years, it may only be the one unhappy patient that is motivated to post. Your many happy patients, who had the work done and had no issues, may not be inclined to post about the great filling or crown that you did. However, if asked to provide a testimonial for your website, you would be surprised how many of your wonderful patients, with whom you have built relationships over the years, would gladly come forth to do so!  These online testimonials not only act to detract from the few negative posters, but build a foundation of trust for new prospective patients that come to review your practice website.

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